Tag Archives: reading

National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMo logo

National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo is a big deal. If you are a writer you’ve heard of it and likely participated – or at least swore that you would this year. Essentially NaNoWriMo is one great big on-line writing prompt. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and 11:59 pm on November 30. According to the organizers: “Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.”

Taken at face value this is a great thing! Daily emails and an online forum to keep the writer motivated. Published authors use it to kick start their next project, dreamers use the schedule to dive in. The sheer speed of the daily word count makes you forget to worry and just get words on the page. (For anyone who is writing their first novel the blank page is not your friend. Every word past the first one gets easier. Finally you are lost in the story and the end is near.)

Take the concept a step further and the value to elevating discourse about creativity is immeasurable. NaNoWriMo is much more than one month a year. The Young Writers Program takes the notion of creativity into K-12 classrooms around the world. Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writing retreat for fiction and non-fiction alike. The Come Write In program is a free resource to libraries and others who are promoting reading and writing in their communities.

Writing leads to reading and vice versa. And both writing and reading lead to greater success in all aspects of life – listening and speaking skills improve, analytical skills strengthen, focus and concentration increase, and stress is reduced as the mind focuses.

So whether you are a writer or a reader or both let’s give a shout out to everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo this year!

For more on NaNoWriMo visit their website at NaNoWriMo.org and get ready for 2018.

(This Blog post appeared simultaneously on MissDemeanors.com)





Reading for the 4th of July

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Happy Fourth of July!

I was thinking about books that celebrate the nation’s founding and its early history. I got my start with Johnny Tremaine, a classic children’s book set in Boston prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution. Centering around growing tension between Patriots and Loyalists the book describes the Boston Tea Party, British blockades, the midnight ride of Paul Revere and the Battles of Lexington and Concorde. Since then, I have read many books that touched upon those important years in the nation’s history. Some focus on specific historical figures – Stephanie Dray’s America’s First Daughter, Gore Vidal’s Burr. Others create an atmosphere in and around the era including several books by Jeff Shaara and even one of Diana Gabaldon’s (The Fiery Cross).

Bernard Cornwell made the revolutionary war the centerpiece of two of his novels beginning with Redcoat, which focuses on winter at Valley Forge. On his website, Cornwell says he was historically accurate but took some heat for use of the “f” word, noting that the word was part of historical accuracy. Some years later he added The Fort to his revolutionary collection.

Anyone reading for the holiday today? Any 4th of July favorites?

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?