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The Inspiration and Process

Gatecrash has been a while in the making; 10 years in fact. Readers of the old version of my blog back in the day will remember me talking about it a lot while it was being written, and then on and off over the next few years as it ebbed in and out of my writing priorities. It’s safe to say that it is definitely the hardest novel I’ve ever written, certainly the most complicated, but also the most rewarding.

I feel more fulfilled by Gatecrash than any of my other novels, purely because I didn’t give up on it when it would have been far easier to forget about it altogether. Too long did I procrastinate over it, although much of that meant the birth of other works, it always remained as the most irritating unfinished project I had. And I hate unfinished projects. For me to move on after a string of major changes in my personal life, I knew I had to return to it and give it the devotion and intensity it fully deserved.

But back to the beginning. The first draft was written as my NaNoWriMo project of 2007. I’d been struggling with an idea for it until I had a very vivid dream one night, which involved me waking up in a cold bath and discovering that I’d been attacked and was sporting a rough scar on my back. Don’t ask me the psychological analysis of that dream – I’ve been too scared to look at it that closely – but I knew immediately that I had to use it as the prompt for my NaNoWriMo novel.

Over the next thirty days Gatecrash was born in a very linear fashion. The dream was the starting point and I took it from there, just managing to get it over the 50k word count by the end of the month. But although it succeeded on number of words, it was failing in my mind; it started well enough but always moved away from the original concept, and I’d never been able to control that. I always felt that I’d sacrificed the idea purely to hit the word count goal.

Over the next four years I tried going back to it several times but failed drastically. I would read through it and attempt to fulfill the story but then either struggle too much or just lost interest.

Then in 2012, my personal life hit a bad patch where writing just wasn’t something I was able to do: I got divorced, moved house, changed all my goals, and started running my own business. Everything was changing and it was hard enough keeping control of my personal life without worrying about manuscripts. What’s more, I lost touch with a lot of writing friends during this time and regret this hugely.

Then last year, my circumstances finally changed for the good: the storm waves settled, the clouds parted, and it dawned on me that I’d guided my life into a place where I had choices again. The first thing I decided was that I wanted to get back to writing, so when I finished up on my last job at the start of the year, I decided to reopen Gatecrash. I would dedicate myself to it and give it the due attention it needed; I would make it the novel I always felt it could be.

First up was to deconstruct my understanding of the novel. I sat down and got to know each of the characters one by one, and I took each chapter and worked through it in detail, asking myself if what had been written was good enough to stay in (this resulted in a lot of deletions). And finally, I wrote out a plan, chapter by chapter, one page at a time. In doing so, I soon realised that the dream I’d had wasn’t how the story should start – it was the midway point! So I began writing the novel from scratch and to my delight (and relief) the novel unfolded naturally. While I still hit problems, they were enjoyable challenges that meant renewed vigour and research, and a refreshed outlook on the whole book.

Over the past few months Gatecrash has gone from being the absolute thorn in my side and reflective of a crappy period in my life, to being the biggest writing success I’ve had, and in doing so, being dually reflective of the changes in my life and where it is now.

I’m in a happy place these days and I truly believe that my inner happiness and calmness is what helped Gatecrash to be not only the most complex book I’ve ever written, but also the most enjoyable to read – I hope!

Bio
Colin Galbraith was born in Paisley and brought up in Bridge of Weir in the west of Scotland. He has been writing fiction since 1999. After living in Leith for 15 years, he has now happily settled in South Queensferry with his soulmate and their two rabbits. He is a joint owner of St Mirren Football Club, a keen fly fisherman, a proven rabbit tamer and an outstanding fake faller.

Gatecrash is his fifth thriller.

His website is at: www.colingalbraith.co.uk

Excerpt (with buy links)

“What day is it?” said Kyle.
“Saturday,” said Matt. “It’s Saturday because I was at a party just last night.”
“But it’s Monday afternoon. You’ve been AWOL since Friday night and so has Damian. You wake up in a bath today all freaked out and wet, but where the hell is he? What have you two gone and done now?”
The reality began to seep into Matt’s dazed mind. “I don’t understand any of this,” he said, and turned to sit down on one of the chairs. He was beginning to feel sick again and needed to get to ground and close his eyes for a moment. “I just don’t understand.”
“What’s that on your shirt?” said Kyle.
“Where?”
“On the back of your shirt. It looks like blood. Are you bleeding? You’re bleeding all down your back, mate.”
“I don’t think so,” said Matt. “There was some blood in the bath but it was from my sick.” He tried to twist round but the burning in his back was too much.
He reversed up to the mirror and sure enough, the back of his t-shirt had a large patch of blood oozing through the material.
“Take your top off,” said Kyle, holding his arms out to help him.
“Why?”
“Just take it off,” said Kyle, and helped Matt remove his shirt.
Matt looked at Kyle’s face in the mirror. He looked as though he was hoping to find an easy answer but only managing to display the paleness that deep worry can bring. Suddenly, his blank gaze was replaced by a horrified stare.
“What is it?” demanded Matt. “What d’you see? Am I cut? Have I been stabbed?”
“You better look for yourself,” said Kyle, and picked up a small face mirror from the table and held it in front of him so he could see the reflection.
Matt angled his head and stared at what he saw: a swollen ten-inch scar on his lower back held together by a series of crude black stitching. Blood seeped from the wound, the area immediately surrounding it heavily bruised. He began to shake.
“Matt,” said Kyle, and held out his hands. “Matt!”
Matt’s legs gave way and he landed hard on the wood panelled floor. In the distance he could hear Kyle shouting for him, but the blackness enveloped him quickly, and soon he was gone.

#

Gatecrash is available now from:

Kindle (UK) – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B072VMNW7D
Kindle (US) – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072VMNW7D
Smashwords – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/731571
Apple iBooks – https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/gatecrash/id1251230286
B&N (Nook) – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/gatecrash-colin-galbraith/1126625138

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One of my recent goals is to take a step back and do some recalibrating on my writing career, my goals, where I am, and where I want to be.

Professional life is a living entity, and one has to constantly change the expectations and reassess the realities. I’d hoped working part-time at what I thought was a dream job would support my writing; I was wrong. It drained me. My writing suffered, and my output suffered. The shock of the position’s elimination, the few weeks at another “part-time” job and then trying to meet all the demands on me for the following months took their toll, both personally and professionally.

I’d been miserable on the treadmill of pressure from demands for quantity and speed over quality — not that much was offered in return. I was (am) miserable about the lack of reciprocity in this region, as opposed to other places in which I’ve lived. There’s a lot of yapping; little doing.

I was miserable in the demands that I dumb down some of my work, to appeal to a so-called “reader” I have no interest in courting. I write intelligent people who get things done. Stupid people wind up dead or worse, in my books. I have a low tolerance for stupid people in real life; just because they’re in power right now doesn’t mean I have to pander to them.

I’m also sick and tired of all the information out there stating that THIS is what you HAVE to do. I don’t like being forced into doing things I don’t agree with and am uncomfortable with. No, I don’t HAVE to do it. No, I am NOT going to dumb down my work. I am NOT going to do or write things I’m not passionate about.

Nor am I willing to stop writing.

Instead, I took some time to recalibrate. Meet with trusted advisors, and decide how I want to reshape my writing career on MY terms. The first session was a day-long meeting in mid-May. We didn’t get through everything, but we got a lot of discussion done, and I’m taking actionable steps on my lists to make changes. Some of them are even already paying off, although many of the goals on my list are longer to implement and longer on return. But once the returns start coming in, they should be pretty steady.

Two books that are helpful in this recalibration are NEVER TOO LATE by Claire Book and BOOKLIFE by Jeff Vandermeer.

I met Claire when she was the keynote speaker at the Cape Cod Writers Center. I was either still on the board and just about to rotate off at the end of my term, or I was recently off the board. I’d read her WILDWATER WALKING CLUB book and loved it, then rushed to read the rest of her books –which include MUST LOVE DOGS, the book for which she’s best known. I was one of the people in charge of making sure everything was taken care of for her at the conference, and running interference if necessary. Along the way, we had a chance to have a couple of fun, high-energy conversations (usually in transit from one location to another).

She had her newest (at the time) release with her, and that was her primary topic: NEVER TOO LATE: YOUR ROADMAP TO REINVENTION. I was in a negative job situation that was draining the life out of me, and knew I had to change, but didn’t know how; I also knew my writing was suffering, and that was one reason I was at the conference — because the CCWC is for DOING not just attending panels and being talked at, I knew I’d get some work done (I started a fantasy novel that was then further developed in Vermont). Conversations with her also inspired a novel I started (and am still working on) called TIE-CUTTER, which, once it’s ready to go out, will be dedicated to Claire, since without her, I would never have had the inspiration to write it.

Anyway, Claire signed my copy, I read it, I liked it, I got caught up in things again.

Until I re-read it these past few weeks. When I sat down and re-read it.

The voice was fresher and livelier than ever, and she felt like my own personal cheerleader. It’s the same quality that makes her fiction so appealing — reading Claire’s work feels like spending time with a friend. Someone who will tell you the truth, but support you no matter what. I worked my way through the book, pulling out ideas I was confident would work, and also a few things that I wasn’t sure about, but thought I would try anyway. I’ll let you know how they work out! We’re similar in that we write consistently, we carry notebooks everywhere, we GET IT DONE. She’s now moved from the traditional publishing world to a more hybrid version, which gives her the freedom; she’s built her readership, and they’ll follow her from place to place.

I’m still in the process of building mine.

But the freedom factor appeals to me.

I’ve never met Jeff Vandermeer, but I’m familiar with both his fiction and his nonfiction. I’d read this book several years ago, when I was feeling exhausted and needed emotional fuel.

BOOKLIFE is split into the public booklife and the private booklife. I re=read the public section before my recalibration meeting, and found it helpful. His ideas gave me a foundation for honestly assessing what I do and don’t want to do as far as putting myself out there for my work. Just because “that’s what everyone does” doesn’t mean I want to — or will — do it.

In fact, when people put elements I don’t want to do in contracts, I either negotiate them out, or I walk away from the contract. Just because someone offers you a contract, you don’t HAVE to sign in. I also don’t sign boilerplates. The contract offered is where negotiations START. If the other side says, “we don’t change anything in our contracts”, my response is, “I’m not signing that. Too bad we can’t work together.”

AND I WALK AWAY.

Vandermeer’s book helps sort out what one is comfortable with and what one isn’t, and also the consequences of saying no. Frankly, saying no and continuing the search for the right partner, in either life or work, is a much better choice than saying “yes” to something that will make you miserable. He also helps formulate the right questions, so you can find the resources you need to build what you want.

What he calls the “private booklife” is something I’m pretty happy with, for the most part; it’s the public elements I need to work on. But he points out something important to remember and easy to forget: that there’s a difference between “process” and “habit.”

Both books help you trust your gut in decision-making. It’s easy to over-think and over-complicate. But when you trust you gut, it works out for the best. That doesn’t mean the road will be easy, or that there won’t be consequences. But when you’re true to yourself, that makes it worth it in the long run.

That’s really the message from both books: Build the career you want by being true to yourself. Then, you’ll get both satisfaction and joy from it. Neither book promises “get rich quick” stuff; both are realistic, enthusiastic, supportive, and, above all, practical.

lust and lemonade cover

Our guest today is Jamieson Wolf, talking about his new release, LUST & LEMONADE.  I met Jamieson electronically several years ago, when I took a short story workshop he taught (a wonderful one, I might add).  We’ve kept in touch ever since.

I asked him about the genesis of this particular book:

 

A Seed That Grew

 

Lust and Lemonade was the first time that I followed that old piece of writer’s advice: write what you know.

Up until I started Lust and Lemonade, I had written a lot of fantasy and horror. I also wrote a lot of romances, but those had fantasy elements, too. I wanted to try something different, something that I hadn’t done before. I wanted to try writing a novel grounded completely in reality, that it would be simple fiction.

The only thing was, what did I write about? I had no idea who the characters or plot would be, but the idea sat beneath the tips of my fingers like an itch. The story wanted to be written, but it had no idea what it wanted to be yet.

I was out at a gay bar with a couple of my friends one night when inspiration struck. I sat there watching as gay men tried (some of them in vain) to find love or at least a warm body to lay with.

It was like watching a mating dance of sorts. All these different kinds of men all out looking for the same thing: a little bit of human affection, a little bit of warmth and companionship, however brief it may be.

I began to make up stories in my head about the different men I was watching: there was the lonely guy who just wanted to find love. He sat in the corner of the bar, nursing a beer, looking up at everyone with such an open expression, but no one sat at his table.

There were two guys that were obviously a couple, and they were checking out other men, wondering which one of them would be lucky enough to take a guy home. There was the man whore who was clearly just looking for the next hole to fill. What he really wanted was love, though he was too chicken to admit it.

At the other corner of the bar, there was this effeminate man. He was wearing a sparkly vest and I could see swooshes of eye shadow over his eyes. He looked fierce and fabulous, and I watched as he snapped his fingers at the bartender for another drink. I instantly fell a little bit in love with him.

Later that night, it occurred to me that I had watched the idea for my novel play out in front of my eyes in real life. I wondered how I would translate that to the page though. Armistead Maupin has always been a favourite author of mine and I’ve read the Tales of the City books multiple times.

So, I thought about writing an updated version of Tales of the City. The book would feature a roving narrative and a focus on a whole cast of characters. However, when I tried to plot it, I got writers’ block. I just couldn’t get the words out the way I wanted to.

I kept my plotting notes, but decided to write this book without any plot whatsoever. The characters obviously wanted to tell me a story and I had to let them tell it. I took some time to think of who I wanted to live within my pages. Like in the bar, the book would have the regular gay, the femme, the man whore, the couple that lived together but played together. I knew that I also had to have representation of other kinds of people within the LGBTQ community.

However, I started with the first chapter. As I wrote it, I got to meet Blaine, Nancy, Chuck and Mike for the first time. It was like coming home in a way, as if the life I had been living had found its way home on the page.

As I continued writing, more characters graced the pages: Poppy and her lover River Moon Falls, Blaine’s grandmother Nan; Romilda, the woman who ran the LGBTQ library. The characters kept me on my toes and told me where they wanted the story to go. It was the first time I had written a novel in this way, letting the characters have almost complete control and it was so freeing.

When I began to feel that the novel was nearing its end, I realized that it was the beginning of a trilogy or series. The first book was about falling in lust with someone. The second book would be about how life gets in the way. The third book would be about love.

The whole experience has been about finding love in a community where it’s difficult to find love. I have always believed in the impossible, after all. When you read Lust and Lemonade, I hope you fall in love with the characters as much as I did.

 

You can get your copy from Renaissance Press here:

https://renaissancebookpress.com/product/lust-and-lemonade/

You can also find it at Amazon:

https://www.amazon.ca/Lust-Lemonade-Jamieson-Wolf-ebook/dp/B071KSV1MT/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1494076194&sr=8-1&keywords=Lust+and+Lemonade

 

Jamieson has been writing since a young age when he realized he could be writing instead of paying attention in school. Since then, he has created many worlds in which to live his fantasies and live out his dreams.

He is a Number One Best Selling Author (he likes to tell people that a lot) and writes in many different genres. Jamieson is also an accomplished artist. He works in mixed media, charcoal and pastels. He is also something of an amateur photographer, a poet and graphic designer.

He currently lives in Ottawa Ontario Canada with his cat, Tula, who is fearless and his husband Michael who is magic made real.

Find him on Facebook and Twitter. Visit his website and his blog.

 

You can find me at: www.jamiesonwolf.com

You can read my blog at www.jamiesonwolfauthor.wordpress.com

And you can follow me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/jamiesonwolf

Or Twitter: www.twitter.com/jamiesonwolf

 

 

 

 

When I was in college and beyond, Adrienne Rich’s poetry was important to me. I responded to her anger. “The Will to Change” and “Diving into the Wreck” both had strong impacts on me, and made me think about gender, hypocrisy, and social injustice in new ways.

Of course, in those years, I was often berated as not being a “real feminist” because I have sex with men. For too many years, heterosexual women were told we “can’t” be feminists. Which is, of course, crap, and so much progress in gender equality was derailed because of the insistence that only lesbians could be feminists. We’re all paying for that now, which the right wing nutbags currently in power trying to bring us back to before the American Revolution, as far as human rights go.

But no matter what anyone else tried to tell me what I could or could not be (basically, I ignored them, did my own thing, and didn’t waste time at their meetings), I responded to her anger, to her words, to the images, and they made me think about daily experience in a new way, and helped me make decisions. The poetry helped me stand up for myself, instead of just taking it “not to make waves.”

Even before I read Adrienne Rich’s poetry, I had experience standing up for myself. In late teen/early college years, I was an office temp in and around classes. One Major Corporation (which now no longer exists, thank goodness), was filled with men who’d drink during lunch and then come back, drunk, and harass the secretaries (we were secretaries then, not “administrative assistants). They would breathe their alcohol breaths on us (I often wished I smoked, so I could flick a lighter and they’d go up), and handle the women at their desks.

I wasn’t having any. I finally, one day, decked the guy who was bothering me and walked out.

The temp agency took the side of the corporation. “That’s just how these executives behave” was their response, and that they didn’t want to lose the client.

I quit the agency, and worked for other temp agencies who actually looked after their workers. Had I been more savvy about labor laws, I would have filed with the Department of Labor, although at the time (late 1970s/early 1980s), it wouldn’t have done much good.

But when I read Adrienne Rich’s poetry, I knew I’d done the right thing.

I hadn’t read her in years. Somewhere, packed in the boxes of books still in my basement, I have those early volumes of poetry that helped me so much. But I’d taken some books out of the library, some of her later work. One, poetry, TONIGHT, NO POETRY WILL SERVE. The other, prose, A HUMAN EYE, a collection of her essays.

There’s still a great deal about social justice, thank goodness: “Ballade of Poverties”, “Emergency Clinic”, “Scenes of Negotiation.”

But my favorite is “Re-Reading the Iliad (As If) for the First Time”. When I was in middle school, we spent six to eight weeks on The Iliad. I loathed it. I remember throwing my copy out of the third floor window of the apartment. I don’t even remember why I hated it so much — I think I thought it was sexist. I didn’t like the characters. Whatever. I hated it. I re-read both the Odyssey and the Iliad a few years ago, when I took a class in Greek and Roman Mythology out of U Penn. I understood why I didn’t like it (still didn’t), but it didn’t evoke such a violent reaction!

The poem, though, made me remember how I felt in middle school, that first reading, and made me laugh as I remembered how strong my reaction was.

My favorite essay in A HUMAN EYE was “Dialogue and Dissonance: The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov.” I’d reviewed one of her books of poetry for NEW PAGES years ago, and admired it. The essay, which discusses how their letters showed the way their relationship built and then declined, makes me want to read the book.

Literary discussion is a lost art. We post questions or snippets of ideas on social media; too often, when we get together, we talk about agents and contracts and marketing instead of the work. Far too many writers try to get connections on social media to do their work FOR them, everything from research to naming characters. (Aside: quickest way to turn me off your work is to ask people to name your characters on social media. That’s an intimate act between writer and character, and random people shouldn’t be involved. Another pet peeve is when I say I’m looking for a particular kind of book, trying to feed a hunger, and self-published authors start hawking their own–which are usually poorly written and not edited or copyedited). I’ve always longed for someone with whom to have actual literary correspondence, so I live vicariously through volumes of letters of those who have. The essay, once again, whetted my appetite.

Isn’t that what good writing is all about? Making the reader see differently? Whetting the appetite. That’s why I love good writing.

POEMCRAZY by Susan G. Wooldridge

In honor of National Poetry Month, the first book I re-read was Susan G. Wooldridge’s POEMCRAZY.

Just picking up the book brought back positive memories. The first time I read it, I’d found it at the New York Public Library’s branch at 41st and 5th. Not the building with the lions, Patience and Fortitude; the building across the street, with the books you can check out.

I worked on Broadway at the time, and loved it; however, I felt that so many hours in the theatre meant the rest of my world narrowed, and I craved poetry.

I read most of the book in Central Park over the coming weeks, loving it. Living a block off Times Square, Central Park was only about 15 blocks away, not a far walk at all on a good day.

I liked the book so much I hunted for a copy of my own, which I found at Strand Bookstore. (If you’ve never been to Strand, visit. I still get many of my research books for projects from them online. I’ve been a customer since 1982).

Re-reading the book, I remembered my initial enjoyment, and layered on renewed appreciation.

She combines anecdotes and exercises. Much of the book seems naive at this point, with our cynicism and market-driven orientation. But Susan makes sense of the world through poems — not just words, but words that create vivid images.

Two of my favorite of her devices are the “wordpool” and the “word bowl”. Tossing words whose sounds and meanings are evocative into a container where you can pull them as you need them — even if you didn’t know that’s what you were looking for in the moment — is a wonderful device.

In fact, I’m going to use a physical “word bowl” in one of the novels I’m currently writing. A bowl holding actual words (I’m going to do it a bit more elaborately than Susan does. for the purposes of the novel), grounds my character and makes her feel safe. Knowing she can reach into a bowl and pull out something that will spark ideas –what could be more grounding for a writer?

I’m no good at writing poetry (I can use the precision of language in scripts and in some prose, but paring it down to poem is not a skill I’ve achieved), but I love to read it and I love to read about it.

If you enjoy poetry, as a reader or a writer, I highly recommend this book.

POEMCRAZY by Susan G. Wooldridge. New York: Clarkson Potter Press. 1996.

I find it difficult to trust people who don’t re-read books.

“I don’t have time” when it comes to reading is just as invalid as when it comes to writing. We all have the same twenty-four hours. How we choose to use them defines us. Writers choose to carve out writing AND READING time. People who want to learn, be entertained, and experience different points of view, read.

“But there are so many books!”

Right. There are over 10,000 books published in any given year, and I’m afraid to hunt down the statistics on eBooks that never got to print, but remain in digital format. No one can read everything. That’s why writers are constantly forced to spend so much time marketing instead of writing the next book — because they’re trying to give readers the information about their book, and connect to readers who might enjoy it. Or at least feel some sort of emotion from it.

No one can read everything that comes out. We pick and choose.

So WHY re-read?

Because a good book always offers something new with each re-read. There are reasons the “classics” stay in the canon and we have to read them in school, century after century, and then, hopefully, re-read them as adults, when we’re not carrying the resentment of being forced to read them years before.

There’s a certain amount of re-reading I do to learn rhythm, structure, pace — to work on my craft. That’s a different type of re-reading. If I’m struggling with a piece, be it a play, a screenplay, a short story, or a novel, I go to the best writers in that particular specialty and re-read them. Why do those pieces work so well? I break them down on both technical and emotional levels, and see what I can apply to my own work in terms of craft. Not the words themselves, but the structure, the rhythms, the craft.

That type of deconstruction is a special, learned skill. For this piece, I’m talking about re-reading for pleasure.

Good books make the personal universal and the universal personal. They make specifics relatable. The relationship between writer and reader is intimate in a way it can’t be when you’re watching something in a cinema or on DVD. A reader BECOMES one or more characters in the book, when the writer does his/her job properly, and experiences all the emotions and the actions in the book

When one re-reads a book, one might experience them again. Or the experience can broaden and one can learn something new.

Shakespeare: I re-read Shakespeare constantly, throughout the year. I also read work ABOUT Shakespeare, his time, and his plays, fiction related to Shakespeare and his plays, and essays by actors and writers who have been influenced by Shakespeare and his plays. I always learn something new about humanity. Viola’s yearning for Orlando while he years for Olivia is just as relevant today as it was in the sixteenth century. Hamlet’s decision to “catch” the King by using the Players makes just as much sense, and is the jumping off point for decades of mystery writers. The Scottish Play’s message of what happens to corrupt politicians is what we wish, now, more than ever, to happen. The history plays teach us (somewhat) history, but even more about the human heart.

For those of you who had a negative introduction to Shakespeare, start with Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. Yes, Asimov the sci-fi writer. He wrote one of the best books about where Shakespeare stuck to history and where he veered off and why. Read a chapter. Read the play it discusses. Whole new worlds will open out for you.

Another book I keep re-reading is A.S. Byatt’s POSSESSION. I bought it in hardcover the day it came out, and I keep going back to it. Why? Because I love books about finding lost manuscripts. I love how she wrote in the style of several different authors, and we get to read those lost manuscripts while her characters investigate them. She wrote a book about one of my ongoing fantasies — to find a diary or a lost manuscript — and ran with it in a unique, intelligent, and beautiful way. It reminds me of the path not taken — when I had the choice between becoming a literature scholar, and made the choice, instead, to go into theatre, both as a technician and a writer, although I never stopped writing prose. Even though the chances of my ever finding a lost manuscript are less than one percent — I like the fantasy of it. I like the details of how the scholars do their work. I like the reminder of the smell of old books and archives, the feel of the paper. I love entering the characters’ skins.

For a similar reason, I regularly re-read THE NORTHBURY PAPERS by Joanne Dobson. The journey she takes in finding and researching the manuscript excites me. It is a fantasy of mine that I get to live for the hours I read and re-read the book.

I re-read Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde series and Rosemary Edghill’s Bast series to remind myself where I was in New York City in the mid-1990s. A time before 9/11 destroyed so much, including belief that the world is a wonderful place and that people are basically good (this last election really proved the latter is not true at all). Those books remind me what I hoped and dreamed for, and the decisions I made in my career, why I made them, and they remind me that, although I chose a difficult path, I made the right decisions for me. Not just at the time, but also in the context. Even though I’m frustrated by certain things in my life now and in the process of changing them, those decisions that brought me here were right for me, and I’m glad I made them. When I get tired, when I get disheartened — these books remind me. Yes, those books are what is now called “Urban fantasy” and what was then called “paranormal mystery”. But they were rooted in a reality of time and community that was part of my daily life. They matter.

That’s why I re-read. To learn more, to experience more, to indulge and re-indulge in some of my favorite fantasies, and to remind myself of my journey.

Why do you re-read?

 

It’s a new year, and time for new books. Of course, when ISN’T it time for new books?

But there’s something wonderful about going back to books one has read before. Re-reading a book, especially years after the first read, can be a wonderful experience.

Sometimes, it might be a disappointment. You might have changed your perspective so much that you remember the way you FELT when you read the book, rather than the content of the book itself. But, often, you get more and more out of a book each time you go back.

I have books I consider my “comfort” books. They are books that I go back and re-read regularly. If I don’t get to them once a year, I go back every few years. They are books I enjoy so much that I often have more than one copy of them in the house, and I have most of them on my Kindle as well. This way, I am never without something satisfying to read.

Here are some of the books I keep re-reading:

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPARE — William Shakespeare
I have adored Shakespeare’s writing since I was eight years old and first read the Scottish play. I keep going back to all his works. Many of my best theatrical experiences were on Shakespeare plays, including TWELFTH NIGHT and most of the history plays. When other teens were obsessed with rock stars, I was in Northumbria, visiting the places that Hotspur Percy lived. I never get tired of reading Shakespeare, and learn something new every time I re-read a play. I also love ASIMOV’S GUIDE TO SHAKESPEARE, written by, yes, THAT Isaac Asimov.

JANE AUSTEN — all of them
I regularly go back and re-read all six books. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY remain my favorites, although the others rotate in their place on my list. I always forget how funny she is.

POSSESSION by A.S. Byatt
I read it the day it was first released and it swept me away. I still re-read it once every two or three years, and it still takes my breath away — the breadth of styles included in a single book. The excitement of unraveling the mystery of a newly-found manuscript. I am not a fan of the movie at all, but I continue to adore the book.

HOGFATHER by Terry Pratchett
This is my annual Winter Solstice read. This brilliant satire on belief and non-belief enchants me every time. I’m a big fan of the Discworld books anyway, with MORT, GOING POSTAL, WYRD SISTERS, and MASKERADE as my favorites, but HOGFATHER is the I re-read every year.

LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott
I wanted to grow up to be Jo, although I wanted Laurie rather than the German professor. Even with its flaws, I still love this book. It gave me so much pleasure and so much hope when I was little. Louisa is one of my heroines. Of her other books, ROSE IN BLOOM and AN OLD-FASHIONED GIRL are also favorites. I also re-read her journals regularly.

COLLECTED POEMS -by Emily Dickinson
Again, I learn something new every time I read them. I find poetry experiential rather than theoretical. It’s hard for me to talk ABOUT poetry — I’d rather experience it directly.

TRIFLES by Susan Glaspell
I adore this play. Susan Glaspell is a wonderful author; a founding member of the Provincetown Players, and one of Eugene O’Neill’s earliest supporters, she was a fascinating and wonderful novelist in her own right. Again, every time I re-read this book regularly.

AN EXTRAORDINARY YEAR OF ORDINARY DAYS by Susan Wittig Albert
I’m a big fan of her China Bayles series, and I’ve also read most of her Beatrix Potter and Darling Dahlia books. But this, a diary of hers, is a book I go back to at least once a year, for both comfort and inspiration. You see how the details she notices, how the depths of her own feelings she explores, makes her such a wonderful writer.

SECONDHAND SPIRITS by Juliet Blackwell
This is her first Lily Ivory book. While I’m a big fan of the whole series, I keep coming back and re-reading this first book over and over again. It speaks to me, on many levels. I lived in San Francisco in the mid-80s — while modern SF is quite different, there’s still a resonance in the area — and in Lily — that I love.

A BOOK OF THEIR OWN by Thomas Mallon
This is a collection of diaries, throughout history. As a diarist myself, this book resonates on the whys and hows of keeping a journal that is personal and meaningful, and yet becomes bigger than the self. I go back to the extremely (overly) detailed diaries I kept in the 80s and 90s when I write material set in this time. As I age, the excerpts here give me a fresh perspective every time I go back to them.

THE NORTHBURY PAPERS by Joanne Dobson
The entire Karen Pelletier series is terrific, academic, literary mysteries. But this one is, by far, my favorite, where a copy of JANE EYRE leads to an almost-forgotten novelist. I never get tired of this, and I usually wind up re-reading the entire series.

THE DIANA TREGARDE MYSTERIES by Mercedes Lackey
Diana Tregarde was an urban fantasy heroine ahead of her time, back in the day when it was still called “paranormal mystery” (and what it’s about to be thus called again, since agents and publishers claim not to want urban fantasy, even though readers do). Diana Tregarde is one of my favorite protagonists and I love to re-read the series at least once a year. I have three of the re-issued books that came out a few years ago. I thought there were six, but I can only seem to find three. There’s also a wonderful short story in Lackey’s TRIO OF SORCERY, featuring this character. My other favorite Lackey character is Jennifer Talldeer, the Oswego private investigator; most of the stories featuring her are now out of print, too.
The Diana Tregarde books are: CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT, BURNING WATER, JINX HIGH.

THE BAST MYSTERIES by Rosemary Edghill
Again, I re-read the whole series at least once a year. I relate so much to these books. In some ways, it is a snapshot of what my life was like in New York City in the mid=90s, although I wasn’t as brave as Bast, and in theatre rather than a book designer. But a lot of the social interactions/decisions she has to make in the course of the series resonate strongly with me. Some of it reflects my life at the time; some of it reflects what could have happened, had I made some of the same decisions that Bast made. Plus, they’re damn good paranormal mysteries. The books in the series are: SPEAK DAGGERS TO HER, THE BOOK OF MOONS, and BOWL OF NIGHT. As I worked on this article, I discovered that, in 2014, a Kindle edition of Bast short stories and novellas were released as FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT. I have just purchased it, and intend to read it this week. I will let you know!

HEADLONG by Ron MacLean
I first read this as a contest entry, where I was a judge, and fell in love with it, giving it the winning slot. I later booked Ron to speak at the library where I worked, and recommended him to teach at Cape Cod Writers Conference. His short stories are terrific, too — basically everything he writes is wonderful. But I go back to HEADLONG because it is a perfect example of what I call a “social justice mystery”, where the politics are vital, but don’t get in the way of plot, character, and story. He never stands on a soapbox — he involves the reader in the journey, and gives the reader room to make decisions and judgment calls. Beautifully constructed and even more beautifully written, this is a book well work re-reading regularly. This is not a “comfortable” book to read, but it’s a “comfort book” because it’s so damn good I always learn from it when I return to it. it challenges me in the right way.

There are many books I re-read. I’m a big believer in re-reading, and am always suspicious of people who dismiss it (usually using the non-starter “I don’t have time to re-read”). A well-written book has something new to offer each time you visit with it, and comfort books are old friends who remain with you on the journey.

What are some of your favorite books and why? Please feel free to list them in the comments.

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