One Writer’s Journey

February 11, 2019

Loving What You Do: Reading Great Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:46 am
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Since this is Valentines week, I’ll be writing a series of posts about loving what you do, how to keep your writing energy high and your enthusiasm up.  Because, let’s face it, being creative takes a lot of energy.

One of the most important things you should do is read.

Read the types of books you want to write.  These books will show you what has already been written.  From them you will also see how writers create three-dimensional characters, exciting plots, living settings and more.  For me, this means reading good nonfiction. One of my favorite nonfiction titles in 2018 was Chester Nez and the Unbreakable CodeA Navajo Code Talker’s Story by Joseph Bruchac, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes (Albert Whitman and Company).  It tells his childhood, his life at the Indian schools, being trained for the military, and how his culture helped him survive the horrors of the war and the memories after.

Read books you love.  I will  never write an “own voices” story as a marginalized author.  It’s just not in the cards.  But I love many of these books and reading books you love fuels your enthusiasm for books and for writing.  Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt) was one of those books for me.  I can’t write an authentic African experience, but I can appreciate a fiery female protagonist who has to overcome her own insecurities to fully be herself.  And I can write that kind of character even if she will occupy a complete different type of story.

Read widely.  Read books that were popular when you were a child, the books that encouraged you to love reading.  But also read what is popular today, because unless you are a teen the chances are that things have changed between then and now.

But read.  When a rewrite is being unbearable, briefly shelter in a great book.  Remind yourself just how much you love to read.  It makes the agony of writing worthwhile.


January 2, 2019

Reading into the New Year

For Christmas, my husband got a gift card from HalfPrice Books.  This local store features a wide variety of used books and we all love going there to look for something you won’t find at Barnes and Noble.

This time around I found a copy of Lion of the Valley by James Neal Primm.  Primm was a still a professor when I was at the University of Missouri – St. Louis although I never had him.  I had been looking for a copy of this history of St. Louis for years.  It is the first history complete with bibliography and footnotes as compared to earlier anecdotal histories.

As we checked out, the cashier gave us two calendars.  Not only are there coupons (woo-hoo) but each day lists authors born on that day.  Of course, I immediately turned to my birthday which I share with Barbara Tuchman. It’s a little embarrassing that I didn’t recognize the name of this two-time Pulitzer winner.  She won for The Guns of August which tells about the events leading up to and the first month in World War I and Stillwell and the American Experience in China a biography of General Joseph Stillwell.  I actually recognize the title of the latter book because of the Chinese history classes I took but I’ve never read this particular book.

The great thing about a calendar like this is that you find prompts for authors and books you never would have discovered on your own. Me?  I suspect I’ll be looking for many of these authors on audio so that I can experience them while I row and row and row some more. Yeah.  Someone made a resolution.

An awful lot of the books that I read are written for children and young adults, including my last book of 2018 which was The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin.  Personally, I like many of these books more than I do the books I read that are written for adults but this  preference has led to a debate with my walking buddy.  She’s an accountant who loves to read adult nonfiction.  She reads YA novels so that she knows what her daughter is reading but feels that many of these books are slight compared to adult novels.

I can’t disagree unless I do more reading.  Not exactly a horrible dilemma!


August 7, 2018

Audiobooks: Is Listening to a Book Cheating?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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Yesterday, I was poking around Jane Friedman’s blog and read Kristen Tsetsi’s post, “Resolving My Cheater Shame: Listening to Books Instead of Reading Them.” It was a different take for me.

I have absolutely never felt like I was cheating, probably because I don’t listen instead of reading.  I listen to some books and I read others.  There are books that I will listen to, usually adult nonfiction, that I would not read simply because it isn’t tightly written enough to keep me focused on the page.

That said, I do tend to feel odd calling it “reading.”  I catch myself distinguishing between books I listen to and books I read.

I read picture books and early readers.  I do not  listen to them even when audio is available.  The illustrations are just too great a part of the experience.

I listen to more adult books, nonfiction and mysteries, than I read.  I listen while I use my husband’s rower.  I listen while I do dishes and fold laundry.  I listen while I knit, crochet or bead.  Unless I’m learning a new pattern. Sometimes a tricky pattern requires my full attention.

My husband and I listen on car trips.  That’s a big deal for us.  He’s been using it as an opportunity to introduce me to authors he’s reading that I haven’t experienced yet.

Like Tsetsi, I feel bad sometimes when I can’t stand the voice actor and have to turn the book off.  Sometimes it is because the person reads in a monotone and there just isn’t any inflection.  Other times there is too much inflection and they are just over the top.  I gave up on one book last week, and I was almost 1/5 of the way through, because the female main character was a bad ass and the reader played her bad ass to the max and it was just too much bad assery.

Will I read this book in print?  Probably not. I had heard enough of the story to realize that, to me, it felt contrived.

Listening to a book is a different experience than reading it myself.  It is a great way for me to experience books in translation when I don’t know how to say people’s names and place names.  Do I feel like I’m cheating?  No. It isn’t reading but I am experiencing the story and the characters and the pacing.  Not reading, but different.


June 13, 2018

The Great American Read

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:20 am
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I wasn’t at home the night that The Great American Read premiered on PBS so I haven’t yet watched the two hour special.  It’s one of my goals for the upcoming week.  I’m going to watch it while on the treadmill.  But I did immediately go online and check the book list.  100 favorite American novels.  I wondered how many I would have already read.

The answer:  34.

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the number of books for teens and tweens including Charlotte’s Web, Ready Player One and The Harry Potter books.  And the classics such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Don Quixote.  There were also modern titles, among them Gone Girl.  

Of course there were also a few books that made me shake my head.  But I’m not going to pan anyone here, so there.

Visit your local libraries and book stores now and you will find Great American Read displays.  You can also find the book list and other information, including how to vote, here.

If I understand correctly voting continues throughout the summer.  You can vote on the PBS site.  Or you can tweet your choices using the appropriate hash tags that can be found on the site.  Yes, this means that you can vote more than once which is kind of awesome.  I would hate to have to choose one book over 20 other favorites.  Serious readers will understand.

Why not use this as an excuse to revisit an old favorite or meet a new best friends?



March 16, 2018

Reading: Why Authors Need to Do It

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:32 am
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Lately I’ve been fiddling around with the prewriting I need to do for a cozy mystery.  Although I love cozies, most of the series that I enjoy have been established for a while so I’ve made a point to check out books from some newer series.

Last week I picked these books up at the library and have already read two. I noted that both POV characters were women of about 40. They are both divorced. Neither one of them has children at home. They both own or manage a shop.

Coincidence or trend?  Because these things could be trends if that’s “industry wisdom,” my term for what various people have decided readers want. We all know how that goes.  “Teen won’t read anything longer than X number of pages” became “Harry Potter has shown us that teens will read longer books.”

But it could also be that the people who gave me book recommendations have narrowly defined tastes. If that is the case, there could be much more variety out there.

The only way to find out is to read some more.  My reading list includes:

  • Avery Aames who wrote the Cheese Shop Mysteries.  Another shop!
  • Rett MacPherson wrote the Torie O’Shea mysteries which I dearly love.
  • Amanda Lee wrote the Embroidery Mysteries.  Hobby or shop?  I’ll have to see.

I also have a massive convoluted list that I printed off the cozy mystery blog. I’m going to have to pick through it because somehow they don’t all look like mysteries.  Ah, well.  The search is on!  It’s a good thing that I enjoy reading.



February 6, 2018

Love of Reading Month

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:04 am
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February is Love of Reading Month.  I’ve tried to discover who launched this but to no avail.  A Google search uncovered numerous schools doing literacy pushes through February.

Isn’t this a great idea?  What are you reading?

I have two books underway:

Waking Up White by Debby Irving.  It is a memoir about how a privileged white woman is finally able to see privilege and racism and other hurdles to equality.

Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton.  This is a YA fantasy in a world where magic is largely confined to the desert.  It feels historic but is a gritty fantasy that is two parts Arabian Nights and one part Wild West.

So far this year I’ve read 22 books:

  • Handel: Who Knew What He Licked by M.C. Anderson (early reader)
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (MG novel)
  • King Baby by Kate Beaton (picture book)
  • Hot Pursuit by Susan Brockmann (novel)
  • Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitas by Monica Brown (picture book)
  • Hereville by Barry Deutch (graphic novel)
  • Stolen Words by Melanie Florence (picture book)
  • The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer (nonfiction)
  • The Bad Seed by Jory John (picture book)
  • The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (novel)
  • Newton’s Rainbow by Kathryn Lasky (picture book)
  • Can I Touch Your Hair? by Irene Latham and Charles Waters (poetry, picture book)
  • Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee by Andrea Loney (picture book)
  • Bitty Bot by Tim McCanna (picture book)
  • Watersong by Tim McCanna (picture book)
  • Greenglass House by Kate Milford (middle grade novel)
  • Cricket in a Thicket by Carol Murray (poetry, picture book)
  • A Different Pond by Bao Phi (picture book)
  • After the Fall by Dan Santat (picture book)
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of Ruth Bader Ginsburg vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter (picture book)
  • Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson (picture book)
  • This is the Rope by Jacqueline Woodson (picture book)

I’m not going to say that I read this much every month or that you should read this much in a month.  But if you are going to write, you need to read a lot.

And you should read a wide variety of work.  Even if you are a picture book author, read novelists. After all, you never know what will inspire you.

So what are your plans to celebrate Love of Reading Month?  Me, I have a book to read.


January 10, 2018

Your Bedside Rorschach Test: The Reading Pile

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:22 am
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I recently read a post suggesting that the books we have on our bedside tables are revealing.  First things first, the only book on my bedside is my night-time reading.  But I have books scattered throughout the house.

Bedside: My current nocturnal reading choice is my January book club book – The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: (and their race to save the world’s most precious manuscripts by Joshua Hammer. I’m only on about chapter four but it is really holding my attention.

Living Room: Waking Up White : And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. This book was assigned by our Presbytery.  I am only about four chapters in and, although it hasn’t surprised me in any way, it does encourage you to think and the discussion questions at the end of each chapter will make leading a conversation on this much easier than it might otherwise be.

Then there are the many books on my library shelf.

Some are there because looking at the photos in knitting and crochet books is something of a holiday tradition. Thus:

  • Vintage Modern Crochet: Classic Crochet Lace Techniques for Contemporary Style by Robyn Chachula
  • Rustic Modern Crochet: 18 Designs Inspired by Nature by Yumiko Alexander
  • Knit Kimono Too: Simple Designs to Mix, Match, and Layer by Vicki Square

The rest represent my recent interest in graphic novels and a wide variety of books I’ve recently seen discussed online.  Why oh why did it all arrive right before Christmas?

  • Hereville: How Mirka Got her Sword by Barry Deutsch
  • Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
  • I am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, illustrated by Stacey Robinson and John Jennings
  • All the Answers by Kate Messner
  • Renegades by Marissa Meyer, one of my favorite authors.
  • The monster of Florence by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi
  • The Stepsister’s Tale by Tracy Barrett because I love retellings.
  • Life on Surtsey : Iceland’s Upstart Island by Loree Griffin Burns because it is nonfiction
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell because shouldn’t everyone read Neil Gaiman

I also have a host of audio books simply because they all arrived at the library right before Christmas and, with everyone home, I didn’t get much listening done.

  • Greenglass House by Kate Milford
  • The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

I’m not 100% certain what this reveals other than the fact that I request way too many books and have a really good library system.  It is funny that both books I am currently reading are adult books.  That almost never happens. Obviously I love fantasy but I also read a lot of SF.  What is on my shelf varies.  Sometimes there will be more picture books.  Other times more nonfiction.  There are almost always more children’s and teen books than adult.

What is in your to-be-read pile?




October 13, 2017

How Do You Read?

Paper?  Ebook?  Audio?

While I use ebooks when I do research, I have no interest in using a reader.  I know.  I might as well be a book-asaurus.  But that’s ok.  I work on a screen.  Unless I’m gaming or watching something, I’m not going to be on a screen during my leisure time.

Not that I’m opposed to everything electronic.  E-audio is fantastic.  Fan-tas-tic.  I love audio books.

So imagine my surprise and joy when I was going through my e-mail and saw something from a School Library Journal Partner. “Access RBdigital eAudio Exclusives with a Free Trial.”

What!?  It wasn’t just the idea of free access to literature that caught my attention.  The St. Louis County Library System, my library system, makes magazines available to patrons through RBdigital.  Yes, I read digital magazines.  But it’s on the treadmill so I hardly consider that leisure.  Work-out.  WORK-out.

Anyway, I popped on over to check this out.  So many books.

The offerings in children’s nonfiction are pretty lean but there’s quite a bit in children’s fiction including one of my favorites – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  They also have his short story collection War Dances.  

I’ve got another deadline to meet, but I need to do some more cleaning in this office of mine.  When I clean, I listen to music and audiobooks.  So it seems like a really good idea to check something out.

Wish me luck.  I probably need more with the cleaning than I do with the audio book.  I really and truly need a maid.


August 9, 2017

Picture Book Writing: How Many Picture Books Have You Read

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:15 am
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How many picture books have you read?   One piece of advice that I’ve heard time and time again is that if you are going to write picture books, you shouldn’t finalize even one manuscript until you have read 100 published picture books.  And these have to be recent picture books.  Recent?  That’s books that have been published in the last two years.

100?  Yes, 100.

That’s a lot, you say?  Yes, it is.  But it is essential.

Something that I’ve noticed is that a lot of would-be authors haven’t read anything since they were kids.  Or maybe since their own children were picture book aged.  They want to write because they remember how much their kids loved Sandra Boynton or Jan Brett.

And that’s great.  Really.  But you need to read recent books as well.  Reading 100 current picture books will be like a self-taught MA program.  Do this and you will learn:

How to keep it lean and mean. Picture books today are a lot shorter than the books that were published when my sister and I were kids.  I know this because we recently found a stack of our old favorites.  As I paged through them, I oohed and ahhed over illustrations that could still pull me into the story.  But I also noticed how long they all seemed.  And complicated.  Much more complicated than today’s picture books.  One main thread.  There are no tangents.  None.  I’d love to say that I always remember that.

How to tell a story in 500 words or less.  Telling a story in so few words is tricky.  And you need to read these kinds of stories to see how authors develop character, have their characters fail and try again, and do it all in so few words.

How page turns work.  No other book form is as reliant on the page turn as is the picture book.  Thing of that turn as the big reveal.  You can hide something behind it and completely change the direction of the story with the turn of a single page.  It is a built-in cliff hanger.

How to use picture book language. Picture books are meant to be read aloud.  Because of that there are language requirements that short stories and early readers may not have.  They have to sound playful and/or poetic when you read them out loud.  Practice this with your 100 books and you’ll learn how a picture book sounds.

Picture books are an art form.  Read and study 100 recent books to learn how this form functions and what is being done today.  And, if you really and truly love picture books, you’ll have a lot of fun doing it.


August 3, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:09 am
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Connect with young readers even outdoors.

Have any of you ever been fortunate enough to encounter a StoryWalk®?  I only learned that they existed earlier this week when someone asked about them on a community forum.

StoryWalk® is an innovative way for readers of all ages to enjoy reading in the outdoors. Laminated picture book pages are attached to wooden stakes positioned along a trail. As the reader strolls along, they can pause to read before moving on to the next page in the story.

StoryWalks® can be found in 50 states and 11 countries.  The original walk was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT. She put it together with help from Rachel Senechal, Kellogg-Hubbard Library.

The costs for each installation include 3 copies of the book (2 for laminating and one as ‘replacement parts) and lamination costs.  Stakes are a one time cost and can be reused for subsequent books.  Because the book is purchased and the owner of a book can do pretty much whatever with it, copyright problems do not come into play.

I have to admit that I wasn’t initially thrilled with the idea of cutting a book apart.  But pulling young readers into a story?  Making them want to read more?  Perhaps get their own copy of the book?  That is very attractive.

Does your community have a StoryWalk®?  Do you have an outdoor oriented picture book?  Or a picture book that has something to do with exercise or an outdoor activity?  This would be an excellent way to help young readers connect with your book.

Click here and here for more on StoryWalks®.  The second piece has some great tips and words of advice.  And here are a variety of Youtube videos on StoryWalks®.




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