Reader Expansion Challenge April: MURDER AT LONGBOURN by Tracy Kiely

 

Murder at Longbourn by Tracy Kiely. New York: Minotaur Books. 2009.

This month’s challenge was truly a challenge. I’m in the process of reading many books in favorite genres by new-to-me authors, but they are for a contest, and I can’t talk about any of them until the contest results go live.

I picked up MURDER AT LONGBOURN by Tracy Kiely when I was browsing the shelves of my local library. Set on Cape Cod, inspired, in some ways, by PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, I thought it sounded like an interesting story.

I’m a big fan of mysteries. I have been, since I first started reading Nancy Drew way back when, and figured out my allowance in terms of how many Nancy Drew books I could buy. I still have them. I read in many genres, I enjoy many genres, but mystery is often the most satisfying.

Elizabeth Parker goes to her Aunt Winnie’s new B&B on Cape Cod to celebrate New Year’s. She runs into her childhood nemesis Peter, and into murder when the staged murder mystery entertainment for the evening takes an unexpected turn. Layers of intrigue and hidden motivation, mistaken identities, humor, and witty nods to Jane Austen blend for an excellent mix.

Clues and red herrings are beautifully distributed throughout the tale. If you pay attention, you can figure it out — yet still be surprised by a few of the elements. Kiely is excellent at keeping the balance between giving the reader enough information, but not letting the reader get too far ahead of the story or characters.

I sometimes felt Elizabeth’s learning curve wasn’t fast enough. But I liked her determination to get herself out of the jams she got herself into instead of expecting to be rescued.

I plan to read the rest in the series. Or, I should say, I’ll read the rest in the series once I finish reading the entries for the contest I’m judging. And then I’ll start reading her other series, too. I’m delighted to have come across Tracy Kiely’s work. I hope you’ll give it a try, too, and let me know what you think.

May’s challenge is to switch it up. If you usually read fiction, read non-fiction. If you usually read non-fiction, read fiction.

I read both, but I definitely read more fiction than non-fiction, so I’ll choose a non-fiction book for next month. Our discussion date is Tuesday, May 21.

What book did you read this month? Do you recommend it? Why or why not? Tell me about it in the comments.

 

Advertisements

March 26, 2019: SCRATCH: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living

SCRATCH: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. Edited by Manjula Martin. NY: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. 2017.

I recommend this book to anyone working in the arts, not just writers. Creatives can see how it relates to other artistic fields.

It’s especially relevant, since the WGA and the ATA are negotiating their new agreement. You can read both sides of their argument here.

The book is a mixture of essays and interviews about various writers and their relationship with earning money from their art and craft. Cheryl Strayed, Susan Orlean, Jennifer Weiner, Alexander Chee, Leslie Jamison, Emily Gould, and more.

These pieces talk about how society tries to manipulate us into not believing our work is worth being paid a living, comfortable wage. How the “starving artist” concept is part of institutionalized economic segregation and oppression. For minorities, that layers onto the other oppressions they already face.

It reinforced what irritates me every time I hear an unpublished or self-published writer say, “Oh, I don’t care about making money I just want this out in people’s hands.”

That hurts every writer who works hard to earn a living writing. It falls into the same category of “writers” willing to work for $1 an article or clicks for content mills, who hurt all the other freelancers out there.

J. Robert Lennon’s essay “Write to Suffer, Publish to Starve” talks about the relationship between art and commerce, and how “commerce” is often about more than money. Jennifer Weiner builds on that as she talks about self-questioning the worth of the writing when it’s not getting respect from other professionals, even when it pays well.

Emily Gould’s essay “Likeability” sets out the constant demands made on women authors to be accessible and likeable. One of her sentences, in particular, resonated: “Being an extremely social, sociable, accessible person should not be the price of being a professional writer, but for women it almost inevitably is.” (p. 147).

I find myself fighting this constantly. My writing ability has nothing, NOTHING to do with what I look like or whether or not I’m willing to have my own work interrupted constantly to be “accessible” so potential customers (most of whom don’t buy books anyway) won’t threaten to boycott my work or give me 1-star reviews because I was tired or on deadline or didn’t fawn over them when they decided I should.

Men are considered literary lights if they get drunk and behave badly at events. Women are dismissed as “unlikeable.”

One of the exceptions to the above, Jonathan Franzen, who has faced his share of criticism, talks about the need for journalists covering a regular beat rather than crowfunding everything, and the need for writers to go deep within for creation, away from constant electronic interaction. Something he states also resonated strongly: “I think we need to put an end to the expectation that stuff be free.” (p.268). It was part of his response on the need to pay journalists, with which I agree. We pay lawyers, doctors, plumbers, pay for our utilities, the groceries — why do so many balk at paying for words, when they must be in constant state of creation and arrangement in order for society to function?

Cari Luna talks about her agent firing her after five years. Colin Dickey points out the flaw in the demand that writing for free gains the writer something, how a “circulation economy” must work in both directions. Kiese Laymon reveals the pressure to soften the racial themes in his novel in order to make it economically appealing to white readers in order to have it published.

Manjula Martin’s essay about day jobs and contacts, along with Leslie Jamison’s MFA vs. NYC models, got me thinking about how writers sometimes ghettoize each other in their definitions of what a “real” writer is, or what a “day job” is. Even within some of the essays, I saw delineations with which I strongly, strongly disagree.

Susie Cagle’s essay “Economics 101” where she talks about the Grift Economy, the Gift Economy, the Gig Economy, the Guild Economy, and the Big Economy articulated many of the frustrations so many artists face trying to make a living.

Essays made me laugh or wince; nod my head or talk out loud back at the page in disagreement. Some of them challenged assumptions I’ve mistakenly made about others’ writing and make me want to do better in the future. But every single one evoked a strong, emotional response.

Which is the point of good writing.

Every piece in this book is damn good writing.

We live in a society that demands money, but that does not want to pay artists for creating something they need and use every day of their lives. Words are an imperative to communication, business, social exchange. The engaging creation of those necessary words deserves as fair a pay as any other profession. The rise of the Cult of the Stupid and the Glorification of the Ignorant in the past few years, especially in politics, makes it even more difficult to get both the respect for the work and the fair payment.

Does this book have all the answers? No. But it has personal experience layered over socio-economic reality, mixed in with emotion and great writing. It will make you take a more nuanced look at the questions, and give you some ideas for creating your own answers.

So buy this book. Support the artists who are willing to discuss what we are often shamed into keeping silent. Denial of fair payment is too often what is demanded of us because we chose, we are talented enough, and we work hard enough to create a life in the arts.

Reader Expansion Challenge: Book by A Woman Whose Work You Haven’t Yet Read: Until You by Jeannie Moon

 

This month, the challenge was to read a book by a woman writer whose work we had not previously read.

I got some wonderful recommendations. I looked at several books; I have a huge TBR pile from those recommendations that is very exciting. Some of them are big books that will probably change my life.

Then, I saw a RT on Twitter (can’t remember from whom, but it must have been a fellow writer). It was about a writer I had never yet read named Jeannie Moon, who writes romance. A younger writer criticized her because her female protagonist is ten years older than the male love interest.

Say what?

As an unmarried woman who’s older than I ever expected to be, that offends me.

I’ve dated older; I’ve dated younger. I joke a lot about how my cut-off in dating is that don’t date a man to whom I could have technically given birth.

That’s not always true. I’ve sometimes dated men younger than that.

But, as I said, I’m older than I ever thought I’d be.

I don’t date them very young, because I don’t date boys, I date men.

Of course, there are plenty of males who are chronologically men but emotionally boys. I try to steer clear of them, too.

I hurt on behalf of Jeannie Moon, and I was offended FOR her. She gets to write whatever she wants. She writes romance. That means her characters find their Happily Ever After.

In my Gwen Finnegan series, Gwen is twelve years older than Justin. Does it cause problems? Hell, yes. Do they have great sex anyway? HELL, yes! Do they genuinely love each other? Hell, hell, HELL yes!

Granted, the Gwen Finnegan books are paranormal mysteries with romantic elements, not romance novels. But I believe everyone deserves a happy ending. A real one, not a nudge, nudge, wink, wink kind that’s paid for by old white men in Florida “spas.”

I looked over Jeannie Moon’s published books and decided to read UNTIL YOU for this month’s challenge. First, that was the book criticized. Second, the male protagonist was a professional hockey player.

I’m a huge hockey fan. I’ve written about hockey, both in fiction and by covering the sport. I even spent eight months with a minor league team (where, even then, I was already older than some of their mothers). No, I didn’t date any of them. I wasn’t even tempted, and I set strong boundaries. But I wrote about quite a few hockey players over a period of years who started out as talented boys and grew into terrific men. I’m proud of them.

I didn’t date any of them after they’d all grown up, either.

An aside: I once brought a date to one of the games. We went to the bar where we all hung out after the games. My date and I sat on our own, but I brought him over to introduce him to the players. As we walked away, I looked back at the table, and a handful of the guys with whom I was closest looked horrified and shook their heads. When I went to the rink the next day, they sat me down and gave me a serious talking to about how this guy was entirely wrong for me, and they were worried.

I’d already figured that out. But I thought they were adorable to care.

Back to Jeannie Moon’s book.

I really liked it. It was charming and funny. She’d done her research. She got the hockey right and the teamwork right and some of the not-so-nice aspects right. She got various settings right and they sang, supporting the story.

There was one plot development where I thought the book would lose me, because I am sick and tired of that choice being the endgame in too many books, especially romance novels. But then, it took a sad and poignant twist. The way the characters dealt with it was beautiful and true to their core integrity, and made me care about them even more.

The antagonists were drawn a bit too broadly sometimes, and I got ahead of them. I didn’t need scenes in their POVs. The scenes were fine–the writing was good, we got insight. But I didn’t need those scenes.

But the other characters and the way they grew and loved and laughed and cried and lived and fought and supported each other — it was beautiful.

I had a smile on my face by the end of the book. I look forward to reading more of her work.

I’m sorry Jeannie Moon was attacked for writing lovely, vibrant people who genuinely love each other; but I might not have found her work otherwise. She’s definitely worth reading.

So what’s next month’s challenge?

April’s challenge is to read in a favorite genre by a new-to-you author. We reconvene to share on Tuesday, April 16th.

Please share in this post’s comments what you read this month. I’d love to add them to my TBR pile!

Yes, these posts are more essays on my emotional responses to a book than a review. That is my choice. A review serves a different purpose. The point of the Reader Expansion Challenge is to get us reading in new directions and respond emotionally as much as intellectually. These posts are not reviews. They’re discussions of reading experiences.

Reader Expansion Challenge: Outside Genre

Reader Expansion Challenge: Read out of preferred genre

For this first month of the Reader’s Expansion Challenge, I decided to read something in the horror genre. I don’t read horror often. The world is scary enough right now, horrifying enough right now. I also don’t get that cathartic release from horror that so many other people do.

But the whole point of this challenge is to expand.

So I read horror.

About a dozen books in the genre were recommended to me. I chose WE SOLD OUR SOULS by Grady Hendrix, set against the backdrop of the music industry. The design of the book is beautiful, both interior and exterior. Doogie Horner and Quirk Books did a wonderful job.

I started in the entertainment industry working on road crews for rock ‘n roll, and, when I lived in Seattle, that’s when bands like Sound Garden were just starting out. The band in the book is committed to metal. I figured I’d relate to a lot in that book.

The writing is good, the pace is terrific, the protagonist is wonderful. Her ability to think on her feet is terrific. Her passion and trust in the music set her apart from any other character I’ve read in fiction. The different styles used within the book — excerpts from interviews, song lyrics — and the way they weave into the action and drive the narrative are masterful.

I was worried that the book would derail at one point — an unattributed Aleister Crowley quote is given to one of the other major characters. That choice caused the worry that this was actually a right-wing hatchet job posing as a genre novel, and it would go down the evangelical path, meaning I’d have to throw it across the room, for hypocrisy, and taking a cheap way out.

Fortunately, it doesn’t do that.

Instead, the novel goes deeper and even more horrific, almost being too realistic at times, as it raced to the climactic sequence. It weaves current events and treads into a slightly alt future that doesn’t seem too far-fetched, considering our current daily news cycles. I found the ending both satisfying, while still unsettling. (Not cathartic, but that’s me).

Much to my surprise, I really liked the book. I liked it well enough to recommend it, in a general sense, and to a musician pal who I think would enjoy it. I liked it well enough so that I plan to read more by this author.

Yes, there is violence. There is gore. There is both physical and psychological horror (the latter scarier than the former, in my opinion). But it’s a well-crafted story, and my experience with this book makes it more likely I’ll read more horror in the future.

That was my expansion. Please tell me about yours in the comments.

The next Reader Expansion Challenge will be on Tuesday, March 19. The challenge is to read a book written by a woman whose work you’ve never before read.

I thought that would be easy — there are plenty of books written by women whose work I’ve never read out there. But every time I think I’ve come up with one I want to read — turns out I’ve already read something of hers. I just have to keep digging.

Please share what you’ve read and share the challenge with other readers. You can get the entire schedule here, and use the hashtag ReaderExpansionChallenge on social media.

Enjoy!

 

Jan. 15, 2019: The Reader Expansion Challenge

A Biblio Paradise Reader Expansion Challenge

Since this is a blog about the love of books and reading and book-related things, I thought it would be fun to have a Reader Expansion Challenge, where we expand our own reading and share what we’ve discovered and enjoyed.

There are a couple of caveats:

–Most months, you will be asked to read a book by an author you haven’t read before in any of your regularly-read genres; a new-to-you author whose work you want to try.

–If you’re moving out of your regularly-read genres, and there’s a familiar author you trust across genres, that’s a great starting point.

–Extra kudos if it’s published by a small press and is by an author that’s not yet well-known, but don’t feel hemmed in by the suggestion.

–You CANNOT promote your own books. That’s not what this is about. This is about finding great books outside of your normal reading experience and sharing them. It’s not self-promotion for writers. This site has special dates for that. Although it’s a great way for writers to support each others’ work and find new living authors to support.

–Your discoveries and comments go on the main blog page on the designated page for that part of the challenge. Just post a few paragraphs about how you chose the book/author, your response to the book, and what you learned from the stretch. Please do not put it in comments on the Information page. They will be deleted.

Note: This post is on the Main Blog Page. I am setting up an additional page so people joining the party throughout the year have the information. 

–I encourage people to read books that fellow commenters enjoyed, and then share their experiences in a future post. I’ll also consider asking some of the authors to come by and do an interview, if there’s interest.

–Invite fellow readers and writers to join. Share the link. Use the hashtag #ReaderExpansionChallenge.

–Have fun with new-to-you books and authors that you discover, and that are recommended by fellow readers.

Dates:
The dates are when you POST about the book you’ve read, not when to start reading. So you should start hunting down your book now that you will post about in February!

February 19, 2019: Read a book in a genre in which you don’t normally read.

March 19, 2019: In honor of International Women’s Day (which was on March 8), read a book by a woman whose work you’ve never read before.

April 16, 2019: Read a book in your favorite genre by an author whose work you have never read.

May 21, 2019: Switch it up! If you usually read fiction, read non-fiction; if you usually read non-fiction, read fiction.

June 18, 2019: Read a stage play. NOT a screenplay. It can be one you’ve seen, or one you haven’t. Libraries often carry play scripts, or can order them. Or browse Drama Book Shop or Samuel French or second hand bookshops. Note the difference between reading the script and watching the play.

July 16, 2019: Read a book of poetry. If you don’t usually read poetry, you have a wealth of choices. If you love reading poetry, try a new-to-you poet.

August 20, 2019: Re-read a favorite book from childhood. How have your perceptions changed? How do you feel about it now?

September 17, 2019: Read an anthology of short stories in your favorite genre that contains new-to-you authors (and it can also contain familiar ones). Are you going to read longer works by any of these authors?

October 15, 2019: Read something Halloween/Samhain-oriented in any genre you wish, by a new-to-you author.

November 19, 2019: Read something with a family-oriented theme, in any genre, that you haven’t read before.

December 17, 2019: Read a winter-holiday-themed book, in any genre, that you haven’t read before (and feel free to share any favorite winter holiday-themed books you read over and over again).

What next?

Read a book in a genre in which you don’t normally read about, and post about it on the February 19th post that will go up on this page!

 

The Book Boyfriend Dilemma

bench-1853961_1920
image courtesy of Pixabay

I’ve noticed a lot of talking and joking on social media the last few months about one’s favorite “book boyfriends.”

I have mixed feelings about that.

As a reader, when I’m reading a book, I want to understand and experience the story from inside the protagonist, whether we are similar or not. That includes “falling in love” within the context of the book with whomever the character falls in love with (although there are times when I separate myself out and go, “no, that one’s not right for you, what are you doing?”

Part of the power of reading is connecting or understanding or having a crush or falling in love (for the duration of the read) with characters in the book.

And, yes, after putting the book down, during bouts of singleness, I might wish I had someone in my life with traits similar to that of the character with whom I fell in love for the book.

There are plenty of love interests in books with whom I don’t fall in love, even for the duration of the book. Especially when they start talking about their love interests as possessions or as “mates for life” or any such thing. As a teenager, briefly, I thought that all-encompassing love was exciting; now I find it creepy. Even in a book. Even as a fantasy.

I want us to choose EACH OTHER. I don’t want to be dominated or owned or tamed. I want a partner, not a master.

Even in books.

I’m discussing this in terms of heterosexual couples, because that’s my experience. This isn’t meant to exclude same sex or pansexual couples. But I’m speaking from personal responses to the books and to the chatter.

While I’ve wished to have a partner in my life who embodies traits of a character with whom I’ve “fallen in love” (or lust, or a crush) in a book, I stop short of calling those men my “book boyfriends.”

Because I am not the woman with whom the various men fell in love with.

Sometimes (often), I wish I embodied those characteristics. But I’m me. I’m not this particular hero’s One True Love.

He fell in love with the heroine of the world they both inhabit.

One of the reasons he’s so attractive is that he loves HER. They found each other. They managed, in a world of thousands of possibilities, to sort through the noise and find each other, and build happiness together.

I’m happy for them.

Should I insert myself, Mary Sue-style, into their world, he still wouldn’t fall in love with me, because they found each other. Should I pull him out of his world and into mine, he might be dependent on me initially to learn how to navigate my world, but we still wouldn’t find true love together.

What makes an HEA work is that those two individuals in the book found their best match.

I’ve often said I believe there are a number of people with whom one can be content, or even happy, but I do believe there is one true love for each of us. Many don’t find that individual.

If this particular “he” turned away from his true love to me — be it in his world or my world — it would diminish him. He would no longer be the character with whom I “fell in love” in the book. That extra frisson of attraction that made him so enticing would be destroyed. I would have less respect for him.

I can’t be with someone I don’t respect.

Let’s face it — many of the traits we find attractive in fiction would grate on us in daily life. It’s fun to play with them for a few hours, to have that fantasy, but bring that character into day-to-day reality? How many of us could cope with each other then? Many of these characters lack the flexibility for the daily details that can make or break a relationship. Part of what makes them so attractive as a fantasy makes them irritating as a reality.

Am I over thinking? Of course! Talking about “book boyfriends” is a fun game and it makes one think about qualities that one finds attractive in a partner. It’s a fantasy, a daydream, an escape from the mundane.

And yet, yet, it always makes me feel uncomfortable when I do it. Not when other people joke about it or talk about it or whatever. I can enjoy their enjoyment. But when I try to do it, it feels wrong.

It makes me feel as though I’m intruding on an established relationship. Even though those in the relationship are fictional.

I am happy to embody the heroine while I read the book, “fall in love” during the book, and then go back to my life when I’m done. The characters continue their lives on their fictional plane. I continue mine on my own plane of existence.

All kinds of ideas can spin from these different planes of existence and interaction. Many have been done. Entire series have been built on a fictional character coming to life, or a person entering a fictional world.

What about as a writer? Do I write my ideal partner?

Yes and no. As a writer, in order to accomplish what I wish, when I write from inside a character, I embody that character, no matter what the gender. Each character in one of my books is me and is not me simultaneously. As I wrote in Ink in My Coffee, the piece, “Can Writers Have Friends?” — when I do my job properly as a writer, the character evolves away from the original inspiration — and away from ME — into a unique individual.

What I try to do, when I write romantic partners in my work, is write the ideal partner for the character. Not for me, but the character. Again, the characters are me and not-me simultaneously, and then evolve farther and farther away from me as the book grows.

Recently, two men entered my life, one romantically and one platonically, who inspired characters in upcoming work. However, as I wrote the characters these men inspired, they evolved further and further away from the men who inspired them. They became the right characters for the context of their fictional worlds, and my friends remained in the right context of this world.

“Book boyfriends” can be a fun game and a fun fantasy. But unless I turn into a different person, I’m wrong for all of them. I’ve worked very hard to become the person I am, flawed as that is, and I don’t want to be someone else. So, yes, I can indulge myself here and there. But then return to being the real me rather than a fictional combination of me & the heroine, and find a real person with whom to have an even better partnership.

 

Gifts for Writers — the 2018 Edition

gift-3030279_1920

Got a writer in your life? Make them feel special!

One of the best ways to honor the writers in your life is to buy their books for others on your gift list! That’s a gift that gives in multiple directions.

But here are some other ideas for the writer(s) in your life:

cover-desk-journal-159768

Blank Journals or Notebooks
Whether it is for a personal journal or developing an idea, notebooks and journals play a huge part. Not every writer does everything electronically! Writing by hand makes a big difference.

close-up-composition-desk-372749
Pens
They’re great for  drafts in longhand.  cards and letters by hand, and, of course, signings. Beautiful pens make the whole experience special.

blur-clothing-cozy-251454
Socks
That sounds ridiculous, and many people make fun of the socks-for-the-holidays thing. But it can get cold when you sit there writing, so socks are great.

When I worked backstage on Broadway, and in other theatres, I had to dress all in black. My exception was socks. I started wearing novelty socks as a joke, and then it became a signature trait. I still get a kick out of funny socks.

literature-3091212_1920
Books
Sure, a gift card lets the recipient choose their own, but if you give me a book that you love, it’s a great way to share an experience. I love sharing books I love that I think others will like (if I don’t think they’ll like it, I find something else; I take their preferences into account). I also love it when people share their favorite books with me.

coffee-983955_1920
Coffee (or Tea or Hot Chocolate)
A drink beside the desk helps fuel the work.  Find out your writer’s preferred fuel; it always makes a great gift.

red-wine-2443699_1920
Wine
A glass of wine at the end of a long day is a great way to decompress from a day spent making characters’ lives hell. . A bottle of wine is always appreciated. Or,for beer drinkers, beer.

whiskey-315178_1280
Whisky
Want to spend a little more and impress your writer? As a single malt lover, the way to my heart can be cleared with a good whisky.

advent-1883840_1920
Candles
Scented or not, candles add atmosphere to a room. They can also be used to help writers start and end their sessions, ritualizing the work space.

sheep-3103597_1920
Anything handmade or from the heart
The love behind the gift matters.

Odd Literary Gifts
There are plenty of fun places that offer odd literary gifts.
Some favorite sites:
The Literary Gift Company
The Unemployed Philosophers Guild
The Literary Emporium

Time
That sounds like a bizarre request, but it’s not. Writers are always stealing time for their work. What can you do to make your writer’s life easier? Run some errands? Cook a few meals that person can heat up? Take the kids for a play date, to give the writer a few hours of uninterrupted work time? Help with yard work? Or even, go all out with a gift certificate to a hotel or someplace like Kripalu.. Time is a precious gift, even if it’s honoring quiet time your writer needs for work. Respect the need for time, quiet, solitude.

Use your imagination, and give from the heart! It’s not about the amount spent, it’s the love and thought behind the gift.