Tag Archives: fiction

The Forbidden Bean Origins

Ever wonder how authors come up with ideas? I’ve worked in a chain coffee store for years, and don’t get me wrong, it’s a great job with great benefits, but after five years there I kept thinking, there’s got to be a way to make money from this. Hmm. Wonder if I could write a book incorporating some of my experiences. One day I took the “what ifs” I’d been fooling around with and sat at a table in a local Starbucks (with a caramel macchiato as I recall) and started exploring the possibilities. Transcribed below are the actual notes I wrote that day:
Urban Fantasy 4/8/08
Starbucks – espresso – reaction – gives special magical powers.
Short stories?
Darrell’s check.
She solves problems of customers.
But what gives HER the special powers?
An allergy?
Her body chemistry?
Something she adds to the espresso in the right combination?
Her apron becomes a cape
She finds a bag of beans buried in the back room – that says DO NOT TOUCH or DO NOT USE.
Peaberry blend
The glow? The sparkle?
Maybe she eats a coffee bean and when she does she’s magically transformed into Super Barista.
What problems can she solve? She can help her other barista co-workers as well as customers.
Lots of short stories here.
What are problems?
Maybe she creates connections for people w/problems who can solve them. Or does she solve them herself? Is she the conduit/catalyst?
Job loss
Illness
Infertility
Loneliness
Depression
Death/Grief
Accidents
Divorce
The Economy
Foreclosure
Unemployment
No money for college
Natural Disaster
Car Trouble
Gas prices
Starvation
She finds struggling people and finds a way to help them.
No, she gets severe ESP so she knows things about people she shouldn’t know. John Edward type stuff? Death related. She can see ghosts or angels. Communicates with other worldly beings (make them up?)
She becomes other worldly temporarily. Solves crimes? Brings criminals to justice? Must be a downside for her. After effect is either detrimental to her physically or emotionally. Maybe she disconnects from her “real” life and becomes more and more involved in other world. Why doesn’t she stop? Because she’s addicted. Maybe a weekly or monthly addiction? What happens if she doesn’t get her fix?

This is how the book that became The Forbidden Bean began. It took almost four years, feedback, rejection and criticism from fellow authors, agents and editors before I said, “Screw it!” and published it myself.
I now have pages and pages of notes and ideas for subsequent books in the series I call Grinding Reality. (Tee is assistant manager of a coffee store. Thus the series title.) I am working on the second book in the series which might be entitled Cool Beans. There’s a preview of it at the end of The Forbidden Bean.Looking for something different to read? Here it is.
Grinding Reality Book One: The Forbidden Bean by AJ Tillock
An excerpt and buy links are on my web site: http://www.barbmeyers.com
#theforbiddenbean

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A Forever Kind of Guy Quiz

THE FOREVER KIND OF GUY QUIZ

Is he A FOREVER KIND OF GUY? Take this quiz and find out.

1. Your car breaks down on the freeway. When you call your guy for help he:
A) Tells you to lock the doors, sit tight, he’s on his way

B) Suggests you call AAA for a tow and a ride home

C) Can’t be reached because he’s in jail for DUI. Again.

2. There’s a death in the family. Your guy:
A) Lets you cry on his shoulder while he makes all the travel
arrangements so he can attend the services with you.

B) Calls your best friend so she can help you through this difficult time.

C) Is annoyed with your tears and the interruption in his television viewing schedule.

3. You’re frantic because your purse was stolen with your wallet and cell phone inside. Your guy:
A) Consults his back-up list of credit card numbers, cell phone companies and driver’s license bureaus and helps you make the appropriate calls. (After he attempted to catch the thief at great peril to life and limb and called 911 when the guy got away.)

B) Is bent out of shape because you’d offered to pay for dinner. Again.

C) Watches the thief escape and says, “Wow, look at that guy go.”

4. You invite your guy home to meet your parents. He:
A) Arrives on time, appropriately dressed, with flowers for your mother and a bottle of 12-year-old Scotch for your dad.

B) Arrives 45 minutes late and slightly inebriated. Later passes out on your mother’s new sofa.

C) Doesn’t show up because he’s playing pick-up basketball at the park with his buddies and forgot.

5. You’ve discovered you’re pregnant. You’re ecstatic. When you share the news your guy:
A) Hugs you like he’ll never let go and says the timing couldn’t be better.

B) Buys another pregnancy test and suggests you repeat it because it could be a false positive.

C) Decides he needs his space and wants a paternity test before you see a dime of child support.

6. You receive two tickets to a performance of Swan Lake: Your guy:
A) Asks where you’d like to go to dinner before the performance.

B) Agrees to go with you if you’ll go to the Extreme Wrestling finals with him.

C) Apologizes for missing it but there’s a rerun of Law & Order on TV that night.

7. You ask him if your new outfit makes you look fat. He replies:
A) Everything you wear looks good on you

B) Not any fatter than usual

C) Yes. Especially your butt.

8. You have the flu and can barely lift your head from the pillow. Your guy:
A) Brings you tea and toast and fluffs your pillows for you

B) Refuses to come near you in case you’re contagious

C) Breaks up with you because he’s not good with sick chicks

9. In a sports bar, another man makes an inappropriate comment to you. Your guy:
A) Insists he either apologize to you or step outside

B) Doesn’t hear it because his team just scored

C) Says, “Good one, man.”

10. You’re short on cash until payday and need five dollars for gas money. Your guy:
A) Takes your car to the gas station and fills it up as a surprise. Then gives you cash so you can stop for coffee on your way in to work.

B) Grudgingly gives you $3 and makes you sign an IOU.

C) Wishes he could help you out but his unemployment check’s late.

11. The last time your guy brought you flowers was:
A) Last week. No occasion. Just because he knows you like them.

B) Last year. Because he forgot your anniversary and/or birthday.

C) Never. He thinks flowers are stupid and a waste of money. After all, they just die.

If your answers are mostly A’s, congratulations. You’ve found A Forever Kind of Guy who knows how to treat a lady.

If your answers are mostly B’s, you’ve got a lot of work to do. Unfortunately, this guy might be untrainable.

If you answered mostly C’s, get out now. It’s better to be alone than to be with this guy.

A Forever Kind of Guy Quiz ©2009
Barbara Meyers

This quiz is meant to be fun, but there might be a grain of truth in it as well. It originally appeared online on the Nine Naughty Novelists blog on September 27, 2011. I wanted to share it with all of you since today is the official release day for the eBook version of A Forever Kind of Guy. A print version should be available summer of 2012. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you did, remember positive reviews on the site where you purchased it are always welcome and appreciated. And like all authors, I love hearing from fans. Comment on my blog or write me at barb@barbmeyers.com
Visit me at http://www.barbmeyers.com
You may also want to read the first of The Braddock Brotherhood series, A Month From Miami.

#postaweek2011
#aforeverkindofguy
@barbarameyers

This Lemonade Is Making Me Crazy, Part II

I said I was going to contact the author (see my blog from 10/5/11) about the lemonade issue that was making me crazy and I did. Below is my e-mail to her and her reply to me. She asked that I not use the name of her book or her name if I used this in a blog, so I didn’t. I also deleted the names of the characters in the book when they were referenced in either of our e-mails.

I love knowing I can contact an author, ask a question, and that she’ll take the time to reply. It means a lot to me as a reader. I thanked the author via e-mail, of course, but I want to thank her again here.

Dear Author:
I am reading your book and arrived at the section where they are in the Dakota Territory and one character is teaching another to shoot and she serves him lemonade. Later she gets sick from drinking lemonade someone else on the wagon train made. (Why?) She reaches her friend’s place in Utah and I believe they are drinking lemonade once again.

I am curious as to whether this is historically factual and if so, where/how did all these lemons arrive in the Dakota Territory and where did they come from? How were they kept from spoiling? Wouldn’t they be a luxury and quite costly? I am genuinely curious. I’ve tried to look up the possibilities online but come up empty.

I would love to know the answer. My husband’s degree is in U.S. History and he is stumped as well.

Thanks in advance,
Barb Meyers

The author’s reply via e-mail:

Hi Barbara,
Thanks for your email. I hope you are enjoying the book. About the lemonade, it probably wasn’t what we drink today. However, they did have lemons. Columbus brought them here and by this character’s time, it was quite an industry in California and Florida. Like the sailors who journeyed for months at sea, pioneers could take real lemons with them. They can last a few weeks, but she would mostly have had lemon juice, which women could make themselves. They could use the juice for cooking and cleaning, too. The character could have also used lemon extract, which was probably more alcohol than lemon. They were amazingly resourceful women. Here’s a recipe from 1866:

To Preserve Lemon Juice for a Voyage.
Select only the best, freshest lemons. Squeeze them well through a strainer. To every 1 qt. of juice add 1 oz. cream of tartar. Let it stand 3 days, (stirring it frequently) and then filter it through thin muslin pinned tightly on the bottom of a sieve. Put it into bottles, filling up the neck of each bottle with a little of the best olive oil. Cork tightly, then seal. When you open a bottle avoid shaking it, and carefully pour off the olive oil that is on top of the lemon juice.

Don’t know how this tasted, but if you try it, please let me know.
This book began as a chapter for a history book, so my research was primary, and I did my best to be accurate. I travelled the route the character took and researched at libraries, government offices and historical sites from NYC to Utah. I studied maps, tax records; I read diaries, letters, newspapers, cookbooks and guidebooks (I found an original one of NYC from 1868). Of course, history is subjective, depending on who is reporting what and when, but hopefully, the character would recognize the world I placed her in. 🙂

Thanks again for reading the book.
The Author

Visit me at http://www.barbmeyers.com
Write me at barb@barbmeyers.com
#postaweek2011

P.S. But you see the part in the recipe where it says to avoid shaking the bottle? Travelling overland in a covered wagon seems like there’d be a whole lot of shaking going on. They’re fording rivers, the wagon almost tips over. I’ve decided this “lemonade” they were drinking must have been truly disgusting. Thank God for Minute Maid.

Picky Reader – 23

Missing by Sharon Sala.  This book will keep you going.  It’s fairly action-packed with some unique twists and an interesting plot.  Yes, there’s a love story, but there are lots of bumps in the road getting there.

Ruthless by Anne Stuart.  Anne Stuart’s books are consistently very good stories and extremely well written.  I’ve never been disappointed with one and this was no exception.  If you like sexy historical romance, you should be reading her.

Reckless by Anne Stuart.  The truth is, I downloaded a freebie I saw on Amazon—The Wicked House of Rohan—months ago, disappointed to realize it was a short story, but not disappointed by the story itself.  I wanted more.  So when I saw The House of Rohan trilogy, I jumped on it.  Or at least the first two.

In the past month I’ve overdosed on historical romance.  I’ll have to take a break.

Picky Reader – 13

The End of an Error by Mameve Medwed.  If you’re a middle-aged woman who didn’t marry her first love and who’s ever wondered about the road not taken, this is the book for you.  I’m a bit surprised I finished this book, but I must have done so because I wanted to see what choice Lee makes.  It could have gone either way.  On some level I could identify with her struggle.  I have to admit I wasn’t too crazy about her husband, Ben.  He personified all the negative traits of every long-married man:  self-centered, smug, condescending, who at times belittles his wife and then pretends that wasn’t his intent.  You might see a bit of your husband in him and it might also make you long for your first love.  Seriously, don’t we all from time to time assure ourselves, “There must be something better out there.”  If we only had the gumption to find it and grab onto it when we do.  This book is an exploration of that feeling.

The Dead Lie Down by Sophie Hannah.  I’d never read Sophie Hannah before but I probably will again.  She weaves a complex story together and writes it well.  One caveat, lots of flashbacks, some of which I felt were used merely to add suspense or at least pique the reader’s curiosity about the behavior of the character.  This sort of purposeful manipulation isn’t something I personally care for, but evidently am willing to overlook since I finished the book and would read more by Sophie Hannah.

Something’s Missing by Matthew Dicks.  Clever, clever story, clever and unusual plot.  Be forewarned, however, there is a lot of narrative.  In fact, I put this book down after 24 pages and picked up something else not sure if I’d go back to it or not.  You are completely in the main character’s head and he works alone, lives alone and doesn’t socialize often.  Until he befriends an African gray parrot in one of his “client’s” homes, there is virtually no dialogue.  The book is well-researched and filled with so much detail about how easily a home can be broken into none of us should feel safe.  How Mr. Dicks made a thief a sympathetic character is beyond me, but the character of Martin grows by leaps and bounds when his clients’ best interests begin to take precedence over his own.

Finny by Justin Kramon.  Why oh why have I not learned to look at the information about the author before I pick up a book.  Swarthmore College;   Iowa Writers’ Workshop: Literary Fiction.  It’s sometimes hard to tell what you’re getting by looking at the cover.  Often I enjoy literary fiction, but sometimes I just don’t get it.

With this one I simply don’t get it.  What is this story about?  How/why did it get published?  I’m at a loss.  In my head I keep hearing a multi-published author critique my work and write a dissertation about how in any novel a character must have a goal and it should be evident to the reader by the end of the first chapter.  I disagree with her about that because I’ve read lots and lots of books where I had no clue about anyone’s goal by the end of the first chapter and sometimes I couldn’t even tell what the book was about.  Maybe this is only true of romance fiction.  Or commercial fiction.  However, at some point, you would expect the main characters’ goals to become clear.  Does Finny have a goal?  It isn’t obvious to me.  Is this a fictional biography?  A memoir of sorts?  Because that’s how it reads.  It’s a coming of age story, really.  It’s about what happens as a young girl grows up and matures.  Where she goes, who she meets, relationships she has.  But does she have a goal?  If she does I’m not smart enough to pick up on it.  Maybe she just wants to get away from her family where she doesn’t feel like she fits in.  Not a very unusual goal for a teenager, but perhaps that is her goal.  Mostly it seems to me, the title character drifts through her own story.

Something else that nags me about this book is the time period in which it’s set, which is…I don’t know.  It has the feel almost of the 70’s, based on the behavior of the characters.  There are no cell phones or texting.  I can’t find or recall any mention of the year in which it’s set or at least in what year the story begins and that bothers me.  Some of the behavior of the characters seems downright old-fashioned, but then about halfway through the book when five years have passed, one of the characters has a computer on her desk.  No mention is made of the internet, however, or anything else exactly current day, so I’m left feeling a bit lost.  In what decade was a phone card used on a regular basis by college students?  How long have we been referring to flight attendants as opposed to stewardesses?  Playing a tape on a VCR?  Is this the 1980’s?

There’s also a lot of “tell” as opposed to “show.”  And some asides, such as a dissertation on what a poor driver Finny’s mother is that border on author intrusion.

What redeems this book now that I’ve listed all the issues I have with it?  As usual, it comes back to the writing.  It is well-written.  The characters are distinctive enough (some are downright odd) to not be boring which is a plus.  Still I wish I had a better sense of what Finny wants and what time period it’s set in.

Self Storage by Gayle Brandeis.  A purely lovely novel, although I had my doubts at the start.  There is a Walt Whitman thread running through the story and plenty of lines from his poetry sprinkled in at appropriate intervals.  I enjoyed the mix of old with present day or well, at least the setting is in this decade.  Flan is a character with depth and there’s a lot of character growth for just about every character in the book. 

Someone asked me recently what makes me pick up a particular book.  I don’t know.  The cover?  The title?  I do often check to see who published it and when.  There are certain imprints I won’t bother to read.  Usually, I guess it’s something about the cover although at the library, you’re looking at spines, so it’s the spine that might make me pick out a particular book.  But now I notice the blurbs from other authors on the back of Self Storage, which I didn’t read or notice when I picked it up.  One is from Amanda Eyre Ward, author of How To Be Lost, which I read, loved and mentioned in a previous Picky Reader Blog.  Another is Jacquelyn Mitchard, who, if I’m not mistaken, writes a fairly regular column in Parade magazine.  And then there’s Barbara Kingsolver.  I’ll admit I didn’t make it through The Poisonwood Bible, but I loved some of her earlier stuff.  Gayle Brandeis is in good company.

Barbara Meyers Career Update 8/26/10

I’m afraid outlining an update will take a long time, but I’ll try.

Non-writers think that if you haven’t had anything published in awhile you must not be writing.  Not True!  If I’m not working at Starbucks, I write all the time.  Even if it isn’t actual creation of a new work, I’m doing research, or I’m reading through what I’ve written for the twelfth time trying to find the flaws, or I’m thinking about a particular story, plot, scene, character.  If you’re not a writer, you have no idea how much of writing fiction is thinking.

I’ve been writing all along, I just haven’t interested an editor one hundred percent in what I’ve written. 

My latest romance A Forever Kind of Guy, the second in a possible trilogy of sorts which started with A Month From Miami was with my editor for eight months before I heard back about it.  And when I did, the answer was, she was interested but it needed more work, so if I wanted to revise it based on her suggestions and re-submit it, I was welcome to do so.

This is discouraging, but not earth-shattering and I believe I have an excellent editor and like my mother, she’s right 99.9% of the time.  But it took me much longer than I thought it would to come up with ways to change it and make myself happy with it.  She’s had the revised version for several weeks and I’m not holding my breath waiting for her to get back to me.  Nor do I sit around on my hands and do nothing.  I’ve always got more than one project I’m working on.

One of the things I did after I revised AFKOG was send it to a couple of people on the Novelists, Inc. critique loop to get a cold read.  (This is one of the many benefits of belonging to a group like this—I can get a cold impartial read and feedback from other writers.)  One multi-published author blasted me after reading a hundred pages.  “Your characters have no goals.  There is no point in reading further.” 

This was news to me.  Of course my characters have goals.  But it forced me to take a hard look at what I’d written and revise yet again.  More than anything, I think non-writers don’t realize how time-consuming writing fiction can be.  People ask me all the time how long it takes me to write a book.  It’s a question I can’t answer.  I write, I rewrite, I revise, I get feedback, I revise again.  Maybe I should just say, “It takes a long time” and be done with it.  I’m a slow writer, apparently, and I just found out that’s not good if you’re published by an e-book company.  Oh, well.  I yam what I yam.

So once I shipped AFKOG off, I went back to the first book in my contemporary fantasy (potential) series, Grinding Reality.  My character needed a more concrete goal.  (I’ve discovered this is what’s wrong with my many unsold manuscripts—a lack of clearly defined goals for the main characters.  Who knew?)  The goal is actually there in all of them, but it isn’t well-defined or crystal clear.  That’s the part that needs work.

If you’re a writer reading this and wondering what’s wrong with your work or why it doesn’t sell, ask yourself what your main character(s) primary goal is.  If you can’t answer that, you’ve got a problem.  Giving the character a clearly defined goal will also make your book longer.  Think goal, motivation, conflict.

I started working on Grinding Reality two years ago.  It’s sort of bizarre and funny based on my experiences working at Starbucks for the past seven years.  My main character, Tee, accidentally swallows an addictive coffee bean which causes her to temporarily inhabit the bodies of other entities.  In those forms she sees and hears things she otherwise wouldn’t and is compelled to act on that knowledge.   She’s after a suspicious group of Eastern European thugs who’ve set up shop in the sleepy resort town and whom she believes are involved in human trafficking among other things.

An editor did express interest but didn’t think she had the leeway to take on such a quirky project.  Translation:  If you had a better track record as a published, selling author, I’d take that chance.

In between these two active works in progress, I’ve looked at another manuscript I wrote awhile ago.  It’s sort of a suspenseful romance (although I’ve been told it can’t be a romance because the heroine is married and the hero is not her husband).  My massage therapist’s husband is a homicide detective and she offered his services to read it and give me feedback on the murder that takes place.  That was immensely helpful.

Another aside to fiction writers, think about who you know or who the people you know are connected to when you need to do research and ask them for help when you need it.  Most people are flattered and interested to help a writer with information within their area of expertise.

I’ve looked at/read through another manuscript I started a few years ago, a romance about a couple who meet up after ten years at their high school reunion.  He wants revenge.  She wants to make amends.

I’ve also written 160 pages for the third in the possible trilogy which began with AMFM, but sadly, I don’t exactly know what the goals are for those characters, so I’ve shelved it for awhile.  But during the latest revisions for AFKOG, I got an idea for yet another connected book.  Did you know if there are four, it’s called a tetralogy?  Both of those ideas sprang from characters in AFKOG.

You can see why it’s pointless to offer your ideas to a fiction writer.  They’ve already got more ideas than they know what to do with or time to develop.

So…today is the day I set as a deadline to finish reading through the final draft of Grinding Reality, Book One:  The Forbidden Bean.  I’ve got fifty pages to read and the day off to do it.  And then I’ve got a couple of places to send it and see what happens.

Just because you don’t see a fourth book out there with my name on it (yet) doesn’t mean I’m resting on my laurels.  What are laurels, anyway?  And why would I rest on them?  Dictionary time…honor or distinction gained by outstanding achievement …to rest on one’s laurels…To be content with what one has already achieved or accomplished. 

As if.

Picky Reader – 7

Looking for an excellent read?  The Sound of Us by Sarah Willis.  I loved the opening premise.  A little girl dials the wrong number in the middle of the night.  She’s all alone trying to reach her aunt.  The stranger she reaches instead, drawn in by the girl’s voice and apparent circumstances, sets out to help her.  I liked the plot enchancements of a recently deceased twin brother who has conversations with the main character who is an ASL interpreter.  The writing is exceptionally tight.  Not one wasted word.  A truly excellent story.

I also read Baggage by Emily Barr and enjoyed it.  A new twist on a not-so-new idea.  What happens when you try to disappear from your past and forge a new life but your past catches up with you.  Truly well done.

In between these two reads I picked up two of my other library finds and read several chapters into them.  One, frankly, I’m just not getting.  The writing’s a bit tedious for my taste and after four chapters, I don’t quite see the point of it all.

The other, eighty pages into it, I think I could enjoy.  The writing style is inviting, the characters engaging.  But I found myself constantly distracted by the author’s use of footnotes to enhance the story.  The footnotes themselves are clever little bits of detail, but as I was ready to turn the page I’d notice the footnote at the bottom.  I’d read the footnote, but not have noticed what it pertained to.  I’d have to go back up the page to find the reference.  Very frustrating, and I wonder, necessary?  If I have time, I’ll go back to it, but I’m thinking my three weeks might be up before I’m able.

I had one book left to open.  Louise Bagshawe’s For All The Wong Reasons.  One of those books I consider a contemporary saga dealing with business on one side and New York society on the other.  Ms. Bagshawe has written several books, though I don’t think I’ve read her before.  The writing, the characters, the plot, all well done.

If you were sensing a “but,” here it is:  While the characters are engaging, the author has made me think they are not so bright, even though she’s set them up as being either a savvy businessman or a sophisticated society wife.

My first problem is when the character of Michael Cicero is offered a partnership deal for his small publishing company by a much larger publishing company.  Here is a hard-working, albeit struggling, self-made businessman who’s created his own company.  When he fears he might miss his opportunity to make this deal if he doesn’t act quickly, he calls the large company’s lawyer and asks for a recommendation for an attorney to represent his interests.  WHAT?

Am I supposed to believe that the head of a small publishing company in New York City never required the services of an attorney before now, and therefore doesn’t have one of his own?  This character has been set up as savvy, hard-working, put himself through college, quick-minded.  But he suddenly turned into an idiot, and what’s worse, an unbelievable idiot after his character was set up as someone entirely different by the author. 

I’m not an attorney and I’m not that sophisticated, but I know publishing houses work with contracts all the time.  You simply don’t go into a venture like this without some kind of legal advice.  I assume NYC is crawling with attorneys, so why he would go with the recommendation from the attornty hired by the company trying to take over his business is a premise I simply can’t buy.  (And of course, he gets shafted because of this.  A convenient plot contrivance?)

On to the character of Diana Foxton.  She’s the new belle of NY society, her parties are top-drawer, always written up in the society pages of the NY papers, as is her innate sense of style.  But when her marriage is in trouble, and hints are constantly dropped in those same society pages, somehow, she is the last to know.  She’s incredibly naïve, and her naivete is even commented on by another character who professes to be her friend (but who’s really after her husband).

All of a sudden, Diana has a job and is separated from her husband (wondering a month later why he hasn’t called her to patch things up), her society friends have all but dropped her, and she hasn’t got a clue that things are much rockier than she thinks.

I simply couldn’t buy this.  If there was some motivation given for her behavior, maybe I could.  But she apparently buried her head in the sand, and never picked up a newspaper to see if the press got hold of the news of her troubled marriage.  Hello?  You catch your husband cheating, you walk out and then he doesn’t contact you for over a month, and you’re still waiting for him to come to you and apologize?  Dumb.  Dumb.  Dumb.

If the author wants me to buy these scenarios, I need to understand why her characters behave this way.

This is also one of those novels where there’s lots of narrative about the characters, how they became who they are.  “Show don’t tell” is not a mantra to which this author subscribes. 

Having outlined my issues with the two main characters, I can’t say it’s enough to keep me from reading the rest of the book.  The story is strong enough even though I think the characters have made some dumb moves for reasons not adequately explained to me, I am rooting for them anyway.

There are two other things sprinkled heavily into the story.  One is descriptions of Diana’s beauty, her makeup and her designer clothes.  The other is Michael’s internal monologues about his sexual encounters with her.  What he’s done with her (and other women), what he’d like to do with her, how she responded.  On and on and on.  Repetitive and just plain too much of the same thing.  Maybe this is why he behaved so stupidly with his business.  All the blood had rushed from his brain to support his sexual liaison fantasies/memories.

I finished reading For All the Wrong Reasons.  I’d have used a heavier hand editing it, but I can’t say I wouldn’t read another Louise Bagshawe novel.

It’s wonderful, isn’t it when an author can overcome a flaw here and there and present a successful book?  Note to self:  Must learn how to do that.

With only a few days before my books are due to be returned, I picked up Miss Harper Can Do It for the second time and I almost finished it.  I had to zip through the last few chapters.

This is sort of a fun read (if you can get past the footnotes).  I found once I got into the author’s rhythm, they didn’t bother me so much.  My only question is whether or not a character who knows she’s quirky and constantly comments on it is as entertaining as one who has no idea how quirky she is.  The book is peppered with narrative, often informative asides which have absolutely nothing to do with the story itself.  You could skim a lot of it and not miss anything in the plot.  The Brother Alden thread was an interesting twist.

At the library today I picked up:

Shameless by Karen Robards

Pursuit by Karen Robards

(Karen Robards is one of my all-time favorite authors, so I hope I haven’t read either one of these already.)

The Road to Eden’s Ridge by M.L. Rose

The Law of Second Chances by James Sheehan (because of my self-imposed requirement to try to read more male authors)

Guess which of these four I’ll read first.

Picky Reader – 3

Picky Reader Rides Again…

Last night I finished reading Ashley Warlick’s Seek the Living.  A word here about literary fiction.  I seem to read quite a bit of it without realizing it.  Maybe because I’ve returned to frequenting the local library in search of a good read because my book-buying budget has been severely reduced in the last year.

I’ve had discussions with writer friends in the past about what constitutes literary fiction (as opposed to more mainstream commercial fiction).  And I wish I could remember what we came up with, but my old brain can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, and those discussions were long ago.  I daresay I’ve even looked up the description for literary fiction online in the past.

Since I can’t remember anything I might have read or discussed, I’ve come up with my own guidelines:  If the author teaches any kind of college level writing courses, s/he’s probably a literary fiction author.  If they’ve graduated from some hoity- toity-by-invitation-only writing workshop, they probably write literary fiction.  If the book is published only in hardcover, that might be a clue.  Another is if the author has been nominated for or won literary recognition prizes you never heard of.  If the blurbs from other authors talk about the beautiful language the author uses, if there are descriptions like “artistic…searing honesty…haunting,” congratulations.  You’ve just picked up a work of literary fiction.

Mostly what I notice lately about these books is the gaps in the actual story-telling.  It’s as if the reader is expected to fill in the blanks, figure out exactly what’s going on with the characters without the author telling you or showing you through the characters’ action or dialogue.  Ohmigosh!  The author wants the reader to think!  No wonder you don’t see books like this on the big best-seller lists.

Even though I often feel I lack the educational background I need to appreciate a lot of literary fiction, that doesn’t stop me from reading it.  I do enjoy some of the unique ways these authors put words together, that beautiful flowing writing, or descriptive language used in unusual ways to get a meaning across even to plebes like me. 

As authors we’re told to challenge ourselves with our writing.  Same goes for reading, doesn’t it?  Why shouldn’t you read something that challenges you or makes you think.  That might be the definition of literary fiction.  It makes you think or look at things in a different way.  Commercial fiction might do that as well, but its primary purpose is to entertain.  Literary fiction, done well, also takes longer to read.  Maybe because it’s easier to put down and that might be because you have to think more about what you just read.  It’s like a fine meal you want to savor and enjoy and linger over.  Which I guess makes commercial fiction more like fast food.  Quick, easy and often forgettable.

For Seek the Living, all those blurbs by other authors on the back cover are true.  Even if you’re like me and you can’t grasp every nuance the author intends, even if you can’t fill in all the blanks, read it anyway.  Like me, you might truly enjoy it.   It might make a literary fiction convert out of you.

Writer at War – 4

Every once in awhile, as has happened recently, I begin to question my purpose in life.  Specifically, am I meant to write.  More specifically, am I meant to write the kind of fiction I’ve been writing for 20 or so years.  And lastly, if I’m not, what is it I should be doing instead?

I may never know if the reason I’m not more published is that I haven’t been persistent enough with agents and editors or because I lack talent.  If it’s the latter, that’s good news for me, because in my opinion, talent isn’t exactly overflowing in the world of publishing.  If it’s the former, I guess that’s good news for me as well.  I could simply step up my querying efforts, couldn’t I?

When I question whether or not I’m meant to write, I’m taken back to a mini-health crisis I experienced 20 or so years ago.  My symptoms could have been indicative of a couple of things, one of which was life-threatening.  Before the test results were in, I’d already asked myself that question:  What’s important to me if my time on earth is limited?  First was raising my kids to adulthood.  Right after that was, “I want to write my stories.”  I’d been limping along taking night classes at the local community college with some idea of eventually getting a degree in I-don’t-know-what.  I decided I wanted to spend my time writing instead.

That health scare turned out to be something easily dealt with, but what I learned about what I wanted stayed with me.  I want to write.

Even now, in these tougher economic times, I wish I could say there’s something else I want to do.  Something I could go to college for, get a degree in, pursue as a career.  Sadly, I can’t think of anything.  I only want to write.  My Starbucks career is enough for me.  I think by now I should have an honorary degree in Latte Creation.  What is that worth on the open market?

There’s a chapter in The Art of War For Writers called “Write hard, write fast…”  It made me think of my early years writing where I wrote and wrote and wrote and hardly ever queried.  By the time a few rejections rolled in, I’d moved on to another project.  I even had an agent ask for complete manuscripts early on.  She offered to send one of them out even though she didn’t think it would sell.  I should have told her to try, because who knows?  Maybe it would have sold.  Or maybe I’d have received enough editorial feedback to sell it.  But maybe I wasn’t ready for publishing success back then.  Maybe I’m still not ready for it.

One thing you will find if you write for a long period of time and don’t sell anything.  You will soon be surrounded by unfinished and unpublished manuscripts.  I have boxes filled with them.  Some I’ve written and rewritten and have two or three versions of the same story.  I’m convinced there’s nothing wrong with the stories, it’s simply the execution that is lacking.

Someone told me those are called “trunk novels.”  If I don’t sell something else soon, I’m going to need a bigger trunk.  At least I wised up and started recycling paper.

I don’t know what’s better.  A writer who writes and writes and writes and doesn’t sell most of what she creates?  Or a writer who agonizes over that first effort and never quite finishes it?  I guess it’s better to at least finish something.  Get a first draft done so you can type “the end” instead of getting stuck halfway through and never finishing it.  You can always go back and fix what you’ve written.  But you can’t fix a blank page.

Picky Reader – 1

Picky Reader:  Library Problems

A few years ago I stopped going to the local library because I got the feeling I’d already read everything of interest to me there.  I started buying books, mostly the marked-down ones at Barnes and Noble.

But economics being what they are of late, I’ve returned to my library habit, much to my dismay. 

Typically I’ll take out four books, always fiction, for a period of three weeks.  Here’s what’s been happening: 

On January 4, 2010, the four books I borrowed were:  Made in the U.S.A, Disturbing the Peace, Earthly Pleasures and Roommates Wanted:  A Novel.

I started reading Made In the U.S.A, by Billie Letts because I’d read another of her books a couple of years ago and liked it.  Sadly, I could not finish this book.  It’s the story of a 15-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother who find themselves homeless on the streets of Las Vegas.  I got halfway through but when the girl is raped in a motel room, I had to put it down.  I admit I flipped through the rest of it and it appears it to have a happy ending, but I couldn’t read through the pain to get there.  If I want gritty realism, I can turn on the news any night of the week.  I need fiction to remove me from reality, not slap me in the face with it.

So I picked up Earthly Pleasures.  This is the story (romance I think) of a greeter in Heaven who will be sent down to earth as a human being.  I give the author credit, it’s an unusual idea.  I just couldn’t get into it and gave up after a few chapters. 

Moving on to Disturbing the Peace.  This is the only book out of the four that I finished.  It’s basically about a woman searching for the mother who gave her up.  Women’s fiction.  Although I thought it had a few gaps where I’d have appreciated a bit more information on why the biological mother gave her up, the fact that I finished it tells you something.  It held my interest.

With a few days left before my books were due I picked up the Roommates book.  I don’t think I made it through the first chapter.  This is one of those British books about a guy with a house and a motley crew of roommates who’ve written to him in response to advertisements to get a room in his house.  The guy’s a starving a poet whose wife left him after a month of marriage and whose father abandoned him after he bought him the house.  Not my thing.  Back to the library we go.

Took out four more books:  Becoming Strangers, Talking to Addison, Book Doctor, Hairdos of the Mildly Depressed.

I have a new strategy.  Now I read a few pages into each of them to see if any of them are going to hold my interest and then I pick the most likely candidate.  I have a feeling I’ve already read Book Doctor because one of the character’s names sounds familiar even though I don’t exactly remember the whole story.  I’ve already put that one down.

So far Becoming Strangers seems like the likeliest candidate for a full reading, but I’ll let you know.

I’ve had another brilliant idea to keep track of what I read when and I wish I’d started doing this years ago.  I’m going to keep the little receipts the library issues when you take out books.  They list the title and the withdrawal and due dates, though not the author’s name.  At least I’ll be able to check if I think I’ve already read something.

Earlier in December I read How To Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward.  I recommend it.

She wrote another one called Sleep Toward Heaven.  Have not yet read it.

Stay posted for further musings from Picky Reader.

Further Musings, Star Date 2/11/10:

I finished Becoming Strangers, but it was a struggle.  This is literary fiction, I guess, slow-moving, probably making a point about marital relationships on some deep symbolic level that I’m not smart enough or well-versed enough to grasp.

I took a break from library books and read Kristy Kiernan’s second book, Matters of Faith.  I confess, I somehow lost my own copy (I still think I lent it to my daughter who swears she returned it to me) and I had to borrow a copy from another friend.  I enjoyed the exploration of what “faith” means or can be to different people in a contemporary life-and-death situation, coupled with complex marital and family relationships.  I have to say this, though:  if you know your screen door is going to catch your heel every time you walk through it, why wouldn’t you hold it open until you’re inside?  I know this was used as a metaphor, and that’s all I say.  If you enjoy women’s fiction, read Kristy Kiernan.

On February 5th, I went back to the library and took out:  Black Hills by Nora Roberts; Face Value by Kathleen Baird-Murray; The Ghost at the Table by Suzanne Berne.

I finished Black Hills last night.  For years I loved Nora Roberts and read a lot of her stuff.  Then several years ago I stumbled across one of her Silhouette romances which completely turned me off of reading her.  I should know better than to pick up a Harlequin or Silhouette series romance. They’re just not my thing.  I didn’t read Nora again until I found Angels Fall in hardcover on sale at Barnes & Noble a couple of years ago.  I loved it and have since read several of Nora’s “big books” and enjoyed them all.  She is simply an excellent story-teller, and isn’t that why we read?