Give Me a Book...Any Book!

I can't imagine living in a time when people couldn't read.  I've always read and always made up stories in my head.  As I frequently tell my grandkids, and told their mothers while they were growing up, books are my friends.

Growing up an only child, there were times when there was no one around to play with.  Before learning to read, I had picture books and an imagination.  Oh, what an imagination!  Those really were the best times, whether spent alone or with neighborhood friends.  Our bikes were horses, my clamp-on-with-a-key roller skates were my skis, we hung by our knees at the top of the swing set--our trapeze, and there was never enough time for play.

Adults aren't expected to live their life in imaginary worlds.  In fact, it's pretty much frowned upon.  Instead, we turn to reading books that are created by the imaginations of writers.

Guess what?  Now we're the writers, so we get to let our imaginations run free!  Just call me Peter Pan...from one of my favorite stories.  With no books in Neverland, Wendy told stories to the Lost Boys.  She should have been a writer. ;)

But books aren't only used by grownups for entertainment.  We use them to gain knowledge of things we don't know.  As writers, we often use them to help us hone our craft.  Many of those have been mentioned this month on this blog.  It's worth checking them out, if only to see a new way to do something or solve a problem we're having with our own writing.  They're a great teaching tool!  Fiction and non-fiction bring us full circle.

Life doesn't give me a lot of time to read these days, but I've been trying lately to do more.  I read in the car, as I wait for my grandkids school to be out.  I read before going to sleep...and sometimes while I'm going to sleep!  There simply aren't enough hours in the day.  My favorite fiction books have been read more than once.  I just finished reading Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Natural Born Charmer for the third time.  This time I tried to pay attention to more of the writing process in it.  Not so easy to do with a book that pulls me in from the start.

Yesterday, I took Debra Dixon's GMC to read while waiting for the grandkids.  Now that I've learned how to use it, it's much easier to understand.☺  Sometimes I work on my own writing.  I'm a failure at doing nothing.  I read online articles and blogs on writing.  I research topics related to my stories.  Yes, I write contemporary romance, but there are still many things to learn, whether it's mechanics of writing, locations for stories, and currently specifics on maternal death in the U.S..

I love to be entertained and I love to learn new things.  I have shelves of how-to books, some related to writing, some to life in general.  My Kindle holds even more, including romance, suspense, YA, classics, biographies, and even cookbooks.  (Disclaimer:  I am not a "cooking" person.)  If someone took all my books away, I wouldn't know what to do.  Make me laugh, make me cry, and make me learn!  It's all about books...and life.

Knights of the Air Bubble Dancing with a Khaki Whacky (Melissa Robbins)

      I have three bookshelves in my library related to writing and WW2 and picking just one book that helped me with my research proved difficult.  You’ll just have to humor me as I share my top four. 

 Women at War:  In Uniform 1939-1945 -  I always consult this information rich book about the different branches English women served during WW2.  I particularly review the chapters on the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and the Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service.  Not only is there information and photographs on the historical aspects, but several women include their experiences, all different.  Some humorous.  Some heart breaking. 

The Few:  The American “Knights of the Air” Who Risked Everything to Save Britain in the Summer of 1940 – This book shares the trials of some of the American men who flew for the Royal Air Force before the U.S. got involved in WW2.  These men, who defied U.S. neutrality laws, could have been fined $10,000, arrested by Federal agents, and thrown in prison.  This info led to some great backstory for my main character Wren Buchanan and her brothers and insight into their personalities and what they would do to help England. 

Keeping Watch:  A WAAF in Bomber Command – Just one of the many memoirs I have on people during WW2.  Although my characters belong in Fighter Command, Pip’s experiences lend for some great possible story fodder, like convincing a pilot to let her fly with his crew in a Lancaster bomber (VERY illegal for a WAAF to do).  He made her wear a helmet to hide her curls!  Of course she threw up in the navigator’s handkerchief.  When she returned it all boiled, washed, and ironed, he asked her out on a date.      

FUBAR: Soldier Slang of World War II - As the title reveals, a great book on a language in itself, especially when reading the memoirs.  The book, in dictionary format, lists military slang for the U.S., Britain and her commonwealth countries, Germany, and Japan.  Some so naughty I can't share them on the blog and some quite common these days. I'll leave you with my personal favorites from the book which are SNAFU, army dick, ruptured duck, basher, jankers, khaki-whacky (ahem, Vivian) and bubble dancing.

Here a Book. There a Book. (Penny Rader)

What research/non-fiction book or magazine has helped you the most as a writer and/or a person?  That's our topic for March.  

I can't imagine a world without books.  Just being in the same space as them brings me peace and joy, comfort and strength.

Research book of all kinds thrill me with the possibilities of what I might learn.  Books sharing knowledge about the craft of writing.  Self-help books.  How-to books.  So many books, so hard to narrow down which one non-fiction book has had the greatest impact on me.  Really?  Just one?  Can't do it, so I hope you don't mind if I go with three instead of just one.  

Writing Romance Fiction for Love and Money by Helene Schellenberg Barnhart.  Sadly, it's long out of print now, but it really opened my eyes to what's involved in writing a book.  Ms. Barnhart's many examples made me giddy with the knowledge that maybe, just maybe I could write the type of book I so loved to read.  Actually, I read and re-read this book so many times and took so many notes (copious notes in a stack of 70 page spiral notebooks!) that no one else in town was able to borrow this book from the library for months.  My baby sis and I took turns checking it out, one after another.  A few years later I was able to buy my own copy and highlighted it to my heart's content.

Next we have Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  There's a short essay for every day.  I have read this book several times over the years and each time I discover a new gem.  I have given countless copies of this book to women and teens for birthdays, graduation, Christmas.

Two of my favorite entries:
"Just for Today" prayer (February 29)
The Poetry Prescription (August 22)

Oh, and speaking of books I give to women and teens, I think every woman and teen (and guys, too!) should read The Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker. The subtitle is And Other Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence.  I dare you to read it.  You won't be able to stop after the first chapter.  I wish I'd read this book when I was 18.  I might've had the smarts to escape a scary situation unscathed.   Write suspense?  This will be a wonderful resource for you.

I could talk about books all day, but I'll stop now.  What research/non-fiction book has helped you most as a writer and/or a person?

My Biggest Aid In Writing . . . Hmm, Aspirin?

When I heard the blog topic for this month I went, huh? I'm expected to limit myself to one book? Ain't gonna happen. Just like the other WARA ladies, I am an avid reader. Growing up I spent so much time with my nose in a book, family members stopped asking where I was at family events. It was easier to leave me to my story than to try and pry it out of my hands. They were probably afraid I would hurt them. They were probably right.

Reading was my safe place. I could enter any world, any situation, any adventure and come out in one piece. I could experience places that I may never see in the flesh. Reading opened up new thought processes, new realms, new cultures and new places for my vivid imagination to roam. I could be anyone I chose when reading. Do anything I wanted to do. (And not get arrested.)

Andre Norton was a particular favorite. Her Sci-Fi books were read and re-read for at least two decades. I still hunt one up every now and then. Phyllis A. Whitney was another. I was introduced to her at about age fifteen.  We were visiting relatives out of town and I had some serious female cramps going on. My aunt, bless her heart, gave me a paperback copy of Thunder Heights to read while prostrate on the couch. I was hooked. Now I had a serious avenue to walk my imagination down, love stories. I could write a new one every day . . . in my head. I'm sure being a hormone laden teen helped. The old Gothic Romances are still some of my favorites.

Barbara Mertz, aka Barbara Michaels, aka Elizabeth Peters, kept me busy for quite some time. I never get tired of reading Crocodile On The Sandbank or Summer Of The Dragon. I never drooled over Radcliff Emerson but Tom De Karsky, oh, yeah, big time! My mouth is starting to water even now.

. . . Uh hum, now back to the original subject. For me the biggest aid in writing was not a particular book but the computer. I willingly admit, if I had to hand write thousands and thousands of words to create my books, I would have never started. My hand cramps just thinking about it. My brain too. I applaud, with sincere praise for their dedication, all the writers over the centuries that wrote their stories with pen and paper. I guess I'm too lazy, or too horrified, of the thought of editing and re-writes. It boggles the mind.

I am still computer illiterate in many ways, just ask Roxann, but I can word process with the pros. Well, maybe not the pros, but at least my grand-kids! Okay, I try! Very hard!

I digress. Computers have made the writing process a thousand times easier and faster than writing by hand. Making an, oops, go away is simple. I have lots of those, and with the punch of a button, viola!, they disappear. I wish dust bunnies and dirty laundry would mind so well.

Even though I am not overly fond of technology, for the writer a computer is their best friend. You can type up any piece of junk you want and your computer will never tell, unless you forget to hit delete. You can also take that piece of junk and turn it into a masterpiece by working with it until it gels. Inserting, spacing, cut and paste, delete and new paragraphs can be used at will. Creation is work. Creation is often hard, but with the invention of the computer, it's easier than it's ever been since the beginning of time.

So, get to work!

I Can't Read Because of...Piles…of What?

This month our blog was to be about books we've loved and inspired us to set our writerly feet on the path to our own publication. I love reading. I've read into the thousands of books--yes, I'm counting the re-reading of favorites that are like wonderful friends--always there no matter what is happening, any hour, day or night.  But, as an adult, I have to limit my reading time. I hate that. I'm a farmer's wife and an author so I live where I work. No longer do I have long commutes on city buses where I can enjoy reading twice a day. No long hour rides to and from school.  No more mom does the laundry while I hide in the attic, a chore list no-show.


I have these piles.

I've had piles. For years.  Piles everywhere. Then I would sort them into usable piles, or so I thought. But really, I was making more piles.

My sister had the very good fortune in her formative years to hire on to a large hotel as a maid and the very, very, good fortune to be trained by an expert in cleaning and efficiency in that hotel. There were random inspections monthly. Should she not pass, she had to re-clean the entire room or suite under the watchful eye of the inspector.

Fast forward thirty years.

You should see my sister’s house.

Recently, she had an ankle injury that put her in a bed or chair for twelve weeks.  She has a husband, who is nice, but not so good at housework at all. She also has two very lively dogs.

I did not do her housework. I was in charge of hauling her to doctors.

After twelve darned weeks her house still looked better than MINE!

That was my breaking point. I have read reams of material on how to keep house and what surfaces need what done to them over the thirty years it has been my job to take care of a home. I have written to Pledge and also called to talk with them at the factory. Pledge gave me back four of the days of my life each year. (I have a LOT of woodwork.) After watching my sister’s house during the recent twelve weeks, I gave up and realized I have a problem. I need retrained.  My sister needed to train me on the way out of my mess.

I made her do it.

First Step: Recognize you have a problem.  No sweat there. I definitely had a problem. I tripped over a pile in the dark as I exited my office. No comment on the outcome….

Second Step: Determine to change.  Oh, yeah, me and my broke t…. are behind some change.

Third Step: Seek a wise leader. Got it! Yes, guilt sister into teaching me.

Fourth Step: Listen to teacher.  That is NOT that easy. Why? Because what she told me was almost directly opposite from everything I’d read. Really.

Fifth Step:  Believe.  Ok, so I had to take another look around her place. I was a believer. She only had to vacuum and dust and she was back in shape on the home front—or so I thought.  She admitted to having to clean the fridge too. Nah, really?  The fridge too? After a mere twelve weeks? I almost fainted. My fridge would have had the health department after me in twelve weeks.

Sixth Step: Take notes. Oh, yeah. I took notes. I made her tell me and then explain things.  The first thing she does is a walk-through of the area needing cleaning. Walk-through?  What for?  The entire house is a wreck!  What’s to see except more of the same? She looked at me like I was an idiot. Remember, that’s a sister. So, I had to ask what the exact purpose of the walk through was for.
Ahmmm…It is to assess exactly what you need to take care of today. The overall chaos doesn’t matter. What matters is how much time you have. The walk-through lets you take a look and determine what you have time to take care of.  As she put it, if you merely start, without the walk-through, aren’t you going to be surprised when you get to something Gawd Awful? Think really foul and hidden under a towel by a very short someone who shall be nameless…and you don’t have time to deal with it properly because you started somewhere else.
Recap: The walk-through is to determine what you’ll be doing and what you’ll be doing it with in the amount of time you have to dedicate to it.

Seventh Step: Decisions, or as they say in the medical field, triage. How to select the worse from the more worse.  She says money first. If your bills are all over the place, get them in one place and do something about them. You can’t concentrate on other items if your mind has a growly over money. Know where you are about your money, no matter how bad the picture.
So, in the midst of the mountains of papers on my desk, I did my bookwork. Had a coughing fit from the dust, but managed to survive. (And darn it! I was a lot more relaxed about the mess afterward.)

Eighth Step: Who knew? So I made an emergency call to her after I’d spend about four hours sorting the huge piles of paper into consistent piles. I noticed that I’d spent four hours and appeared to have gotten nowhere. And four hours is pretty precious. I’d lost them to diligence. I called her to ask when things were going to get better because I’d just spent four hours and seemed to get nowhere! Her calm answer was, “You’ve been sorting, haven’t you?” Silence from me. How did she know?
I whispered, “Yes.”
She said, “Stop that!” And went on to explain that sorting may seem efficient, but doesn’t really get anything done. I’d have been better off to assess with a glance through what was in the piles and determine if I was going to use them in the future. Anything of a permanent nature needs a home.  Make a file.  Then you have someplace for the paper instead of another pile. Any paper that will not be in a file needs to be tossed or acted upon immediately.  Determine how important each piece really is, vital to health? Hearth? Home? New novel? I wanted to hit myself in the head with the phone handset. Four hours I’ll never get back now lost to laundry-sorting thinking.
Two weeks later, by using little bits of time, I can now see most of the top of my desk.  The paper piles on the floor are gone. TWO large black bags of paper have been removed from my office, been shredded, and disposed of.  Several piles are now gone from our eating area. You certainly couldn’t call it a dining area-yet. I have a small heap still there, but it is much smaller.

Ninth Step: The vehicles.  The house blew up.  Well, it seemed like it.  Another emergency call to you know who. Beloved and I had taken a short three day trip and there was everything all over the house. I asked her what happened.  She told me there is an order to after a trip. Don’t sort laundry to do unless you need the clothing immediately. Empty the vehicle immediately. Set the luggage out of the way. Set all boxes and bags out of the way. Deal with ONE bag or box at a time as you have time. If you need the laundry out of the way, then deal with it. The purchases you made are not immediately necessary or an emergency. They can wait their turn.

Tenth Step: Deal with what bugs you most even if it seems trivial. The guru said it was because dealing with things that bug you make you calmer. Calmer is a good place to be. Trivial items add up and soon there will be nothing that bugs you that can’t wait while you go enjoy yourself doing whatever you want to do or need to do.

My sister takes naps. Goes and does professional photography. Has tasty, nutritious food at her house. Works full time. Keeps up a huge yard with a thirty-five foot pond, watches TV, reads books, and has a smile on her face. Her place isn’t perfection, but very close.  She has more time to goof off than anyone I know.

I wanted to share this with all of you, because by following her instructions, which I have given here, (I’m sure there are more, but this is as far as I’ve gotten to date.) I can see all but a quarter of the top of my desk. I have had a pedicure, which previously I was unable to schedule.  I have a cleaner house. I am calmer, much calmer. I have been able to devote some time to this blog, which I missed doing. I am doing some re-work on one of my novels-in-waiting. New ideas are popping.

I’m getting my life back for me.

My Favorite Things (cue Julie Andrews)

My grandkids look at me as if I've lost my mind when I tell them to take care of their books, because books are their friends.  For me, growing up as an only child, books were my friends, especially when all the other kids were busy with something else.  Books opened up the world around me, whether fiction or non-fiction or even encyclopedias.  Is it a wonder I started wearing glasses in second grade, after reading books by nightlight?

It was no accident in later years that when I had an answer or a problem that I would go out and search for self-help books.  From being a better person and uncluttering my house to pregnancy and child-raising and everything in between, I had a book on it.  So when I came to the point of deciding that I wanted to be a writer, it was books that I turned to.

I still have one bookshelf filled with writing how-to books that contains one book that actually put me on the road: You Can Write a Romance...and Get It Published! by Yvonne MacManus.  That's where I found information on Romance Writers of America and the date of an upcoming National Conference.  I joined immediately, rented a car, and purchased plane tickets...all in one day.  That day changed my life.

Although You Can Write a Romance... was the book that put me on the path to--well, not stardom, by any means, but learning and happiness and new friends and more--it was only the beginning.  I discovered Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation & Conflict, boosting my writing skill to a new level.  I met and became friends with author Elizabeth Sinclair, who penned The Dreaded Synopsis (A Writing and Plotting Guide), and have nearly worn off the cover.  I've not only used it for writing a synopsis, but for plotting, too.  The one book that is always within arm's reach is The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale.  It's basically a thesaurus, but contains only synonyms, and is nearly three inches thick.  I'm on my third copy.  The first two copies were only well-worn, but worn out.

But the best thing about all of this is not the books, but the people I've met along the journey.  There are my WARA friends and the Ditzy Chix, a group of 10-12 authors that came together in the summer of 2001 to share the ups and downs of being writers.  My friend Kathie DeNosky has always been my guide and inspiration, keeping me from throwing in the towel, many times.  In fact, we became best of friends at that first RWA conference in 1996 in Dallas, Texas.  We still laugh about the day the lightbulb lit over our heads when we realized at the same time what the difference was between Harlequin Temptation and Silhouette (now Harlequin) Desire.  The other who makes up our triad of craziness is Kristi Gold, who makes me laugh and makes me think.  Listening to one of our three-way phone calls as we brainstorm would leave most people dazed and confused.  But even with the three of us talking at once, we understand and help each other, whether it's brainstorming or sharing the trials and joys of life.

So that's it.  Books, books, and friends, none of which I could live without and am eternally grateful to each and every one.  Without them, I'd be sitting in a corner, gibbering senseless stories to myself.  Now I get to share that gibbering with many, many more.  What could be better?

Are We What We Read? by J Vincent

After pondering what book helped me most as a writer or a person I drew a blank. Not exactly a blank, just not a SINGLE book but many. I’m not sure what stories were read to me as a child, perhaps none were since I was number three and my mother not only had all the household chores but milking and feeding cattle, working in fields etc. But a love of reading was instilled and there were always books and magazines available.

I remember my eighth grade teacher opening the world to me by bringing a different collection of books from the public library to our small rural school each month. At about the same time I discovered my father’s stash of western books and magazines with serial stories and short stories. I have never figured out why he thought we needed to be protected from them as I don’t recall anything graphic or lurid. I found excitement and adventure and another whole world for my imagination.

In high school I devoured Reader’s Digest Condensed books. They were eagerly awaited at our home and we vied for turns at them. Today I marvel at how well those books were abridged and at what a broad spectrum of literature they offered. There were classics and modern tales like Pearle Buck’s The Good Earth and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Romances, more specifically historical and regencies which I write, didn’t come my way until I was busy raising a family. The couple of hundred that my sister loaned me could aptly be termed as Reese said, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. But they too, opened a new world to my imagination. Not only opened it but fostered characters and story lines which resulted in my turning to writing and being published.

Which set of books helped me most? All taught me vocabulary and grammar, even indirectly what not to do. How to plot and build suspense were in them too, as well as character development. All contributed to a life long and continuing hunger for the written word in fiction and nonfiction. So I quote Reese who said it very well a couple of days ago, “So today if you ask what books influenced me, I’d have to say ALL OF THEM. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I learn something from all of them.

It's A Bookie's Life For Me by Reese Mobley

Ever have a stranger creep out of a dark alley, approach you and offer you a book?  Find ominous packages on your doorstop marked in red ink, “Read it.  Or else.”  Or how about opening your locker at the gym and discovering a stack of books, tied with a pink ribbon, waiting beside your clean underwear? 
Nah.  Me either. 
Our topic this month is what book rocked your world.  Changed the way you see things—writerly speaking.  Influenced you to reach new heights while typing your current work-in-progress.  I didn’t grow up reading romances like so many of you.  I didn’t open my first romance until my early twenties when my mom dug out a yellowing Harlequin from a box of books someone had given her.  I do not remember the title or the author but I do know this type of story resonated with me.  Happily Ever After.  I’d died and gone to heaven. 
I became an official BOOKIE.  Some might say book-a-holic or even Barnes and Noble nerd.  Friends and relatives started recommending titles and authors to me.  I loved most; liked some, while others left me scratching my head wondering how this book ever made it to print.  I devoured so many books my office looked like a library.  My nightstand resembled a used bookstore.
I was in deep.     
Then, my dearest friend got published.  Her books became my new inspiration.   My social circle expanded to include several honest-to-goodness authors.  The nerd in me listened in awe as they discussed books and issues exclusive to them. 
Being a bookie became the in thing to do.  I was a bookie groupie. 
So today if you ask what books influence me, I’d have to say ALL OF THEM.  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  I learn something from all of them.