Tag Archives: Fiction

A book club for men.

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 3.03.39 PMWriters love books, right? Which must mean that writers love book clubs. After all, this means that people are coming together under the auspices of reading. Recently I’ve talked to several people about their book clubs – clubs of long standing, walking clubs, clubs that meet every month and those that meet four times a year. Clubs that are mainly social clubs and others that are serious discussion only. The common theme – apart from the books – was that they are all women. This started my quest for a book club for men. Turns out it wasn’t hard to find. Not only did I find a few, I found one that struck me as very special. The Short Attention Span Book Club (SASBC) located in the community of San Luis Obispo, California.

The founder, Will Jones, retired from a career in public education (high school English teacher, high school administrator, high school principal) and was interested in next steps. He first started a website called Everyday People where he posted poems he’d written and reviewed books and movies in a section called Short Attention Span reviews. From this the book club was born with the theme ‘short attention span books’ (300 pages or so). Since they started in February 2012, they’ve have only missed a few months and have read well over 50 books.

Will sounds like a lot of my friends and acquaintances who are members of books clubs. He has a lot of interests, including traveling, writing and publishing poetry and writing monthly articles for a local magazine, and spending a lot of time outdoors as a backpacker, hiker and rock climber, but he says that the “SASBC has been the most rewarding activity of my retirement because it’s a shared experience with men my age and we talk about literature! Many of us are dealing with the challenges that come with aging, so even though we don’t dwell on those health issues, there’s always a level of support and understanding. We’re a tight group.”

As an author I like books clubs because people are reading books, but my exchange with Will reminded me that books are about far more than reading. They are about connecting with people.

Will shared more details about the SASBC:

“We’ve had vibrant, rewarding email exchanges with three authors: Larry Watson (Montana 1948 and American Boy), William Giraldi (Hold the Dark), and Jess Walter (Beautiful Ruins). Larry Watson acknowledged his debt to book clubs and wrote that our club name was the best he’d heard to that point. Two local authors, John Hampsey (Kaufman’s Hill) and Franz Wisner (Honeymoon with My Brother) have attended meetings to discuss their books. We attended a Q&A with Kevin Powers (The Yellow Birds) at Cuesta College, a local community college that had chosen The Yellow Birds as its book of the year. We all got to meet Kevin and have our copies signed by him.

“I keep updating our list of possible books to read. I recently added several to the classics column that were written between 1910 and 1920 because one club member has a habit of asking which books we’re reading might still be well regarded in 100 years.

“We are a relatively homogenous group: college educated professional seniors, most either fully or partly retired. We rotate houses for our meetings, which start at 7:00 and usually end by 9:00 or 9:15. We have a great time, but there’s very little idle chit chat. We spend a few minutes sharing “what’s up,” choosing future books to read, agreeing on date and location, and then we dive into our discussion.

He included a two column list of books (attached below) they use as a resource for choosing which books to read. Books with an x next to them are books the SASBC has read (the final two are the next up in their rotation). A big hit recently was O Pioneers by Willa Cather and he notes that they will probably read the other two books in her prairie trilogy soon.

This has made me curious about books clubs – what works and doesn’t work? What are people reading and way?


SASBC Short Novels

Classic Contemporary
Animal Farm, George Orwell Montana 1948, Larry Watson  x
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley  x Train Dreams, Denis Johnson  x
Cannery Row, John Steinbeck  x Lying Awake, Mark Salzman
Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury Waiting for the Barbarians, J. M. Coetzee
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald  x A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad Solo Faces, James Salter  x
Night, Elie Weisel The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane Farmer, Jim Harrison       x
The Stranger, Albert Camus A Prayer for the Dying, Stewart O’Nan
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe  x The Dew Breaker, Edwidge Danticat
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Hurston After Dark, Haruki Murakami
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson
Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee  x Charming Billy, Alice McDermott  x
O Pioneers, Willa Cather The Road, Cormac McCarthy
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway x Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion  x
The End of the Affair, Graham Greene Grendel, John Gardner
Appointment in Samarra, John O’Hara  x Chronicle of Death Foretold, Garcia Marquez
The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett We Don’t Live Here Anymore, Andre Dubus
Our Town, Thornton Wilder (Play) The Soloist, Mark Salzman x
The Call of the Wild, Jack London  x Amsterdam, Ian McEwan
The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene  x Saturday, Ian McEwan x
Franny and Zooey, J. D. Salinger  x The English Major, Jim Harrison  x
Day of the Locust, Nathaniel West An Imaginary Life, David Malouf
Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder Remembering Babylon, David Malouf   x
The Awakening, Kate Chopin The Sense of An Ending, Julian Barnes  x
Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth In the Lake of the Woods, Tim O’Brien
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut  x March, Geraldine Brooks
Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac The March, E.L. Doctorow  x
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey x Regeneration, Pat Barker
Cathedral (SS), Raymond Carver  x The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers  x
Dance of the Happy Shades (SS), Alice Munro American Boy, Larry Watson  x
Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys If the River Was Whiskey (SS), T.C. Boyle  x
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway x Wild,  Cheryl Strayed  x
Rabbit, Run   John Updike   x Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain x
A Death in the Family, James Agee Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter  x
My Antonia, Willa Cather Plainsong, Kent Haruf
Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather American Romantic, Ward Just  x
The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy  x Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan      x
The Winter of Our Discontent,  John Steinbeck  x A Bend in the River,  V.S. Naipaul      x
Ask the Dust, John Fante  x Hold the Dark, William Giraldi             x
The Turn of  the Screw, Henry James Straight Man, Richard Russo                 x
O Pioneers! Willa Cather  2/16/17 Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote West of Sunset, Stewart O’Nan  x
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess Kauffman’s Hill, John Hampsey   x
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler Honeymoon with My Brother, Franz Wisner  x
Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse  x The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, by John Vaillant
100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez  x The Mersault Investigation,  Kamel Daoud
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch,  Fyodor Dostoevsky Silence, Shusaku Endo  x
The Ghost Writer, Philip Roth When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi  x
Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka, 201, 1912 City of Secrets, Stewart O’Nan  x
Howard’s End, E.M. Forster, 246, 1910 The North Water, Ian McGuire  x
A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, James Joyce, 329, 1916 SoHo Sins, Richard Vine   x
Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton, 128, 1911 Razor Girl, Carl Hiassen  4/20/17 x
The 39 Steps, John Buchan, 100, 1915 Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead 5/18/17
Winesburg Ohio, Sherwood Anderson, 240, 1919 Nothing to Be Frightened Of,  Julian Barnes  6/15/17
The Moon and Sixpense, Somerset Maugham, 204, 1919  

 (This post appeared simultaneously on MissDemeanors.com)


Book tour and bookstores. It’s all good!

Week Two of the book tour for Swiss Vendetta!

A few confessions. First, meeting strangers can be daunting, but when the strangers want to talk about books – and possibly your own book – then it’s incredibly fun. I’ve met people in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Arkansas with Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and New York to go, have driven through a snow storm and heard tales of local flooding, crossed the Mississippi River a few times in a car, and traversed the Arkansas River on foot (via a pedestrian bridge in case anyone envisions my walking on water).

Speaking at Joseph-Beth in Lexington, KY

I’ve met writers and readers and convinced a few people to buy their very first mystery (a special shout out to Josh, a high school senior hoping to go to film school who purchased Swiss Vendetta. I expect to see him walking across the stage to accept his Academy Award in about eight years).

Part of the delight of a tour is visiting so many bookstores. Every time I enter, I am struck by a dozen titles I want to buy, and the sight of familiar covers that make me want to dive in for a re-read.

Near the Arkansas River dam bridge at Little Rock

With eight stores in ten days I feel like I should have a preference in stores types, but I don’t. Each and every one has its own charm. Tiny and crowded – feels like entering a personal library! Huge and multistory – clearly they have every title I could wish for! I believe that each one plays an important role in our lives as readers.

What’s your bookstore preference?

Celebrating launch day with dinner in Kentucky

bourbon-balls-on-chinaAmazing dinner with friends in Lexington, Kentucky last night to celebrate the launch of Swiss Vendetta! What a pleasure to see old friends and to share such  meal.

As for the rest of ‘launch day’… not as glamorous. A quick skim through the book before tonight’s reading is probably in order. I’ve avoided doing this because selecting a section to read feels like favoring only one child. They are all my favorite parts…. but it must be done.



The joys of community


Today I’m a guest on Jungle Red Writers. If you read mysteries you will recognize the individual Reds. A stellar group!

It was an honor to guest blog for them, but not a complete surprise because that’s how the mystery/thriller community is. A real community. Supportive and – now that I think about it – inclusive. After all, the ‘community’ extends from cozy mysteries to traditional, up the chain of chills to police procedural and suspense before landing at thriller.

Think about the elements of cozy. I’m not the Webster definer of the type, but sex and violence are typically ‘off the pages’ with the reader learning about it peripherally. That’s doesn’t mean cozies are without tension! Tension is at the heart of moving the story forward. But hopefully not tension that will make the reader keep their lights on all night. (I am reminded of Susan Breen’s Maggie Dove series. Her books are a ‘puzzle’ built around interesting characters. And at the end you are pulling for Maggie, hoping that her search for truth won’t mean a bad end for her! (She’s had some close calls….)

Bruce Coffin’s John Byron Mysteries are police procedurals, and boy does he do it right! Bruce is a retired detective so the details are spot on. There’s more reality, more grit. You might even witness a murder!

Suspense your thing? Then you likely are a fan of James Patterson or Robert Dugoni.

Moving toward the ‘keep the lights on’ end of the mystery continuum and you will eventually get to Stephen King. Never, ever turn your lights off again.

What do these folks share? A love for the puzzle created by what happens when we humans break the law. What happens when someone is killed or kidnapped, or when a bomb is planted and you only have 12 hours to find it and cut the wires? We love people in jeopardy – from the small crime to worldwide intrigue (think Dan Brown)!

The writers in this community must get all of their penchant for violence out in their writing because one-on-one they are the nicest bunch of people you will ever meet. Not a bad group to spend even virtual time with.

What’s been your experience in the writing community?