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Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

This week’s question is part of a series based on 100th episode (“Ask The Readers Anything” ) of the UK-based podcast, The Readers. We thought it would be interesting (and fun!) to answer these questions from the perspective of writers who also (obviously) love to read. 

QUESTION: We find new books to read in all kinds of place and via all kinds of winding paths. Sometimes, the best books turn up in our lives in the most unexpected ways. How do you find new books – recommendations from friends or family, reviews, podcasts, publishers, serendipitous happenstance?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: I’d say that I get the majority of my books from publishers and authors seeking a review. The past few years I’ve limited (or tried to) my spending on books simply because I have so many book cases of books To Be Read already! Sometimes a book cover or title will catch my eye, though, or a book featured in one of my interviews with an author sounds so delightful that I just have to get it. I do have a couple hundred books downloaded to my Kindle that I’ve yet to read, too. So many books, so little time!

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: I see books everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I can’t help it. I find new books even when I’m not trying. Maybe especially when I’m not trying. I read a lot of blogs about writing, and many of them frequently feature books by the writers on the blog. I listen to literary podcasts that review and critique books, I flip through that free Book Pages flyer at the local library, I browse bookstores (I particularly like the staff picks shelves of indie booksellers). I cruise goodreads. I attend book sales, ask friends what they’re read lately, and look over the shoulders of people reading in the local coffee shop. I linger over the ads for new books in Poets & Writers and Writer’s Digest. I pay attention when the authors I admire talk about the books they are taking to bed. In other words, I am 100% open on all channels to hear about new books. Go ahead, breaker, I’m all ears.

hennrikus-web2 Julie Hennrikus: I find out about books several ways. First, in my mystery writing community, I have a lot of author friends. I try to support them if possible. And in my mystery reading world, I have a few authors and series I read. I always go the the “staff recommendations” sections of libraries and bookstores as well. And then if I hear or see an author interview, I will take note of the author. One idea I have started to use–when I hear of a book I want to remember, I download a sample on my Kindle. It becomes my to be read pile.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Like many of the other writers here, I live for books and as a result I have far too many. Does this stop me from buying more? Nope. I like ideas and books encompass new ideas. If someone recommends a book, like Jamie does in her Saturday posts, I’ll check it out. If I listen to a show that references a book on a topic I’m interested in, I pull out my amazon One Click (which is glorious and dangerous option) and it’s on its way. When friends write books, I get copies. When I read a review in a magazine that sounds particularly good, I’m there.Basically, if I catch some excitement about a book, I check it out.

I don’t do drugs, but I definitely do books – they are my fix in life.

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Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

This week’s question is part of a series based on 100th episode (“Ask The Readers Anything” ) of the UK-based podcast, The Readers. We thought it would be interesting (and fun!) to answer these questions from the perspective of writers who also (obviously) love to read. 

QUESTION: If you could coerce or inspire any retired or deceased author to write again, which author would you choose and what would you have them write?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: If I could I would ask Harper Lee to write another novel. I was in an advanced reading program when I was in 5th grade and we read a couple of classics that had children as main characters in them–To Kill a Mockingbird was one of them and I loved it and have never forgotten that first reading of it. I was always sad that Harper Lee hasn’t written any more novels.

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Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: I’d love to read more from Shirley Jackson (no relation to the author, although I do have an aunt with that name!) “The Lottery” is the first short story I remember having made an impact with me – I was pulled into the story immediately and didn’t see the ending coming. I think it was my first foray into dark fiction – the dark side of human nature (which scares me more than monsters).

I’d say she could write anything she’d like, short or long. Or if she doesn’t feel like writing something, I’d be happy to sit with her and chat about writing. I won’t be picky!

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: I’m going to go with Kurt Vonnegut. I have always loved Vonnegut’s books and have a re-read of Galapagos planned soon. His official bio on vonnegut.com captures beautifully why I am drawn to his writing, “His chaotic fictional universe abounds in wonder, coincidence, randomness and irrationality.” Vonnegut’s writing has a wry sense of humor, a deep intelligence, and a heartbreaking sense of sadness. He is also someone who says what he means and means what he says. And he doesn’t pull any punches. In addition to his fiction, I very much enjoyed his collection of essays, A Man Without A Country. There is nothing particular I would wish Vonnegut to write. I just think the world – literary and otherwise – would be a better place with him in it.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Hands down, J.K. Rowling. I realize that she is still writing, but I so want to go back to that whole wonderful world of Harry Potter. It was such a huge part of my and my children’s lives, I feel like it was a real place. I want more, much more of that magic.

 

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The (Writing) Company You Keep

pin quiet peopleWriting is a solitary endeavor. Though your process may include research or interviews or similar tasks that require interaction with other human beings, when you finally come to it – the selecting and ordering of words on the page – you must tackle the task on your own. Despite the necessary prevalence of seclusion in our lives, writers – especially successful ones – seem to have an unexpected skill for creating and maintaining strong communities.

Again and again I have read interviews in which a freshly published author attributes a great part of his or her hard-earned success to the support of other writers. Sometimes the associations are loose ones – membership in a large writing organization like Boston’s Grub Street, for instance. Sometimes the connections are more intimate, such as a small, private group of half a dozen fiercely loyal and committed (to their craft and each other) writers.

I have been fortunate in stumbling into several wonderful groups of writers. Just as I was launching myself as a freelance marketing writer, I fell in with a fabulous group of B2B (business-to-business) writers who were a few (or many) steps ahead of me on the learning curve. We became the Savvy Sisters, a moniker we adopted in honor of our collaborative blog, Savvy B2B Marketing. Though that blog has now, after an almost five-year run, been more or less retired, I will always be grateful for the experience and – more importantly – the friendship of those women. We may not talk as often as we used to, but we are still in touch and I would do anything to support them.

It was one of the Savvy Sisters, the indomitable Wendy, who originally invited me to become part of this blog. Being welcomed into this group marked another turning point in my writing life. While the Savvy Sisters focused almost exclusively on writing for a business market, the team here at Live to Write – Write to Live offered me a place where I can talk about my true love – creative writing and the writing life. Reading their blogs, writing my own, comparing notes, and sometimes sharing a glass of wine via Google Hangouts, I have felt the positive influence of these women on my creative and professional writing life.

I am also part of a fabulous “secret” Facegoup group of fellow marketing writers, many of whom are also aspiring “someday novelists” like myself. Though we don’t publish together on a blog, we share ideas and questions on a daily basis. The diversity of the group and the breadth and depth of our combined knowledge is capable of solving almost any problem – writerly or otherwise.

The bottom line is this: you not only don’t have to do it alone, you shouldn’t. Writers are everywhere. With the Internet and social media, it’s easier than ever before to find people, connect, and stay in touch. You really don’t have any excuses. I realize that I’ve talked about this before – the importance of giving yourself the gift of a writer network – but it’s worth mentioning again. And again. There is strength and inspiration and sanity in the support of a group of like-minded individuals. As the now defunct MasterCard ad campaign always said, “Priceless.”

What kind of writing company do you keep? 

What I’m Writing:

"They bobbed on the waves and dreamed about what they would find at the end of the world." From Hopper & Wilson by Maria van Lieshout

“They bobbed on the waves and dreamed about what they would find at the end of the world.” From Hopper & Wilson by Maria van Lieshout

In addition to the secret Facebook group of fellow marketing writers, I’m also a member of an offshoot group that’s focused on those of us doing the marketing thing, but moonlighting on the side with various creative writing projects. Each week, one of our intrepid members invites group members to check in regarding how their work is going. Here was my response this week:

I wanted to plead the 5th, but then I tried to come up with SOMEthing positive. Here’s what I’ve got: Despite life and work stuff being CR-azy, I am 1) still managing to keep up with my weekend edition posts at Live to Write – Write to Live (no small feat since I’ve apparently completely abandoned my marketing blog) and 2) continuing to give brain space and stolen moments to ideas for stories AND – perhaps more immediately applicable – ideas for story-ish products and creative projects. I’m playing around with different assumptions about what it means to be a writer – more than short stories and novels. I’m slowly and quietly deconstructing my preconceived notions of what My Life as a Writer should/will look like and trying on some different possible realities. It’s all very hazy at the moment, but it’s keeping me afloat despite some challenging personal/business situations that have taken over my life recently. Thank goodness for the artist’s soul – always curious, always creating, always looking for beauty and meaning.

I share this with you in case anyone else is experiencing a similar sense of “limbo” in terms of establishing/evolving a writing life. I have always equated “being a writer” with “being a novelist.” Though being a (published) novelist still holds a great deal of appeal for me, I am suddenly realizing how many other types of writing exist in the world, AND how many types of writing I could explore even though there is no established market for them. Would I love to write a series of successful novels? Of course I would. It’s nice to realize, however, that that isn’t the one and only way to become A Writer.

What are your writing aspirations? Have they changed over time? 

book bellman blackWhat I’m Reading:

Just this morning, still tucked in under the covers, I finished Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield. I enjoyed Setterfield’s first book, The Thirteenth Tale as an audio book (beautifully read, I might add, by Bianca Amato and Jill Tanner), so when I saw a hardcover of her second novel sitting on the $2 shelf at the library book sale, I didn’t have to think twice.

Like The Thirteenth Tale, Bellman and Black is a haunting tale with an ever present hint of mystery and some darkness. If I’m being perfectly honest, I wasn’t as swept away by Bellman & Black as I was with The Thirteenth Tale. (I really hate to say that because I have heard so often how challenging a sophomore novel is for the new author.) It was, however, a satisfying read full of beautiful language and imagery.

One such passage that struck a particular chord for me, since I’m always feeling short on time, was this:

“Never let time be your master,” Bellman told Verney when he asked about it. “If you want to do something, take it on. Time will always make itself.”

But what he really felt about the matter was that he had discovered – or been given – the key to chronometry. He could open up the case of time when he chose, apply weight to the pendulum and slot its movement. He could take the hours apart, find the extra minutes that were going to waste in them, make them his own.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

This has gone so wildly viral that you’ve probably already seen it, but I couldn’t resist sharing it One. More. Time. I was never a big fan of Mr. Yankovic, but after this fabulous parody, you can count me a new convert. Enjoy!

Here’s hoping you find your perfect community of  fellow writers and word nerds, grammarians and historians, memoirists and fantasists – the people who will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you on the writing journey. Meantime, glad to have you as part of the Live to Write – Write to Live community. We love sharing our adventures with you! 

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Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

This week’s question is part of a series based on 100th episode (“Ask The Readers Anything” ) of the UK-based podcast, The Readers. We thought it would be interesting (and fun!) to answer these questions from the perspective of writers who also (obviously) love to read. 

QUESTION: Picture this. Aliens are coming and you’ve been charged with selecting five books for them to read. The idea is to educate them about the human race. Which books do you choose and why?

 

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: OMG. Um. I have no great answer for this one! My thoughts on aliens are that they can just ‘absorb’ information, so don’t need to actually read anything – more along the lines of being mind readers. If someone comes to visit NH who’s never been here before, I don’t want them to sit and read something – I’d rather have them experience it. So, same in this situation — I’d rather have the aliens join a community and learn about us that way.

I’m curious to read the other answers and your suggestions – as I can’t think of any relevant books. History books all have a bias – and are there any uplifting history books about how humans treat each other?

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: This is a Really Hard question. On The Readers, the panelists selected books that were pretty heavy and tried to give a sense of the (not so nice) nature of human being. They picked books like Animal Farm and, if I remember correctly, Lord of the Flies. Yikes! I would rather provide the aliens with a look at the “softer” side of humanity. With that in mind, I think I’d opt to share some children’s books … maybe A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books for starters. Looking at my own shelves, I could also offer up The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. For a slightly older audience, maybe Watership Down by Richard Adams and Stardust by Neil Gaiman. I would look for books that, though they may illuminate some of the harsher sides of humanity and life in general, ultimately focus on the wonders of courage, friendship, and loyalty. And then, just because life really is too important to take seriously, I’d have them read selections from Douglas Adams (probably The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe – who could resist?) and Kurt Vonnegut (maybe Galapagos – one of my favorites).

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: Wow, this is a tough one. What five books would I say define the human experience? Going to be narrow here, based on the human experience of me. Persuasion by Jane Austen, to explain love and longing. To Kill A Mockingbird to talk about race, and justice. Cider House Rules, because I love that book. The Accidental Tourist to talk about life choices. And Murder on the Orient Express to talk about revenge.

 

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin: I’m with Julie on Persuasion for love and longing and To Kill A Mockingbird for race and justice. For revenge, I’d probably go with Hamlet, and for where we are now, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, which I just read and thought was terrific. And Ake: The Years of Childhood, a memoir by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, about growing up in Nigeria. But I could easily pick five other works of literature, depending on where the aliens were from and what they were interested in.

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To sleep, perchance to dream …

Image by @alijardine on Instagram

Image by @alijardine on Instagram

Do you ever wake from a dream and, for a moment, have trouble discerning which is more real – your nighttime vision or the four walls around your bed? I have always had vivid dreams. They play out on the darkened stage of my inner eye like movies, complete with soundtracks, dramatic camera angles, and sensible sequences of events. When I was a child, I would regale my mother with detailed retellings over the breakfast table. Most of the time, I think she was amused; but sometimes I am sure the nature of my reveries perplexed or even worried her.

I do not claim to have any special dream interpretation skills, but I do enjoy exploring my dreams with an eye for stories and themes. I am not alone in this pastime. Margaret Atwood, Stephen KingMaurice SendakMary ShelleyCharlotte Bronte, and even E.B. White have each found inspiration in their nighttime adventures. Sometimes the influence is direct as characters develop and stories unfold while the writer sleeps. Other times, the dream’s contribution to the creative process is more subtle – a deeply evocative feeling, a single image, a sharp yearning.

Although it is not easy to access, I believe that our subconscious holds worlds beyond our reckoning. When we dream, we slip into these alternate realities, submerging ourselves in another time and place, even another’s skin. For a few brief hours, we can journey into a netherworld where nothing is as it seems and anything can happen. Our imagination is free to play with the rules of the waking world, bending and breaking them at will, letting us explore an entirely different existence.

I have kept dream journals on and off since I was a child. I have found that when I am actively pursuing my dreams, snatching at their ghostly tails as I scribble in a bedside notebook, my nighttime garden flourishes. When I fail to give my dreams much attention, they wilt and fade. It seems that we have a symbiotic relationship – my attention feeds them and they feed my creativity.

Do you remember your dreams? Do they influence your stories or creative process? Have you ever kept a dream journal?

What I’m (thinking about) Writing:

Don't be scared of success.

Don’t be scared of success.

Dan Blank published a post yesterday titled, Preparing for Success (and finding more time to write). The post offers helpful and actionable advice to help writers set up the support systems and processes that they need to grow their writing businesses. I nodded my head in agreement as I read through his recommendations for getting help, optimizing systems, and integrating tools into the daily workflow. Even though I have not fully implemented such things in my own business, I see their value.

There is, however, another, more emotional side to preparing for success.

There are two things that keep a writer from pursuing her dreams: the fear of failure and the fear of success.

We all understand the fear of failure. That’s an easy one. You worry that your work won’t be good enough, won’t be recognized, won’t be accepted. You worry that all your long hours (and years!) of effort will turn out to be for naught. You worry that people will criticize you, or – worse – pity you.

But, what about the fear of success? That’s a strange one, right?

Most people don’t like change, even positive change. Success, though ostensibly a Good Thing, comes with a healthy serving of change. If we were to succeed, our routines would change, people’s expectations of us would change. We would be adrift in an unfamiliar set of circumstances. Though we would be making progress in the direction of our dreams, we would – in essence – also be starting all over again since we would suddenly have to grapple with all kinds of new obstacles and challenges. Our “lizard brain” (or, amygdala) doesn’t like the risk associated with change. It will try to “protect” us by maintaining the status quo and it will do so by using fear to dissuade us from trying anything new.

I don’t know the cure for this kind of thinking, but I have a couple ideas that might be helpful. First, be aware of what your lizard brain thinks about success. Pat it nicely on the head and let it know that you understand why it’s afraid, but – really – it’s all going to be okay. Second, try to find ways to experience success on a small scale. Prove to your lizard brain that success isn’t as scary as it might seem – one baby step at a time. Finally, take Dan’s advice and be proactive about setting yourself up for “success with success.” There’s immense power in taking the bull by the horns. Don’t feel like you have to let things happen to you. Instead, be prepared to make things happen for you.

Have you ever thought about the fact that you might be scared of success? What would success mean to you, your routine, your hopes and dreams? 

 

What How I’m Reading:

Knowing how the flower grows does not make it less beautiful.

Knowing how the flower grows does not make it less beautiful.

Next week I’ll have three books to share with you, but while I wrap those up, I wanted to share a few thoughts about reading like a writer.

As writers, we can’t help but read with an eye on the author’s craft. Even when we’re caught up in the swoon of book lust, there is a part of our brain that is always analyzing, critiquing, and admiring the literary aspects of a piece of writing. Non-writers sometimes ask me if this detracts from my enjoyment of the story. I thought about it, and the answer is an emphatic no.

The risk, I suppose, is that the analysis might pull me out of the story … that my dissection of the craft behind the story might somehow steal the writing’s soul. It makes sense that this would be the case, but I have only felt this feeling when my analysis has uncovered deep flaws in the craft. In those cases, I usually abandon the book anyway, so the loss is minimal.

When the book is a good one, I am able to lose myself in the story even while appreciating the work that went into writing it. It’s almost like my brain is partitioned into two sides that are able to process different information simultaneously, like a computer running two programs at the same time. One half of my brain experiences the events in the story as if they were happening to me; the other half makes mental notes about things like structure, character development, foreshadowing, dialog, and any number of other creative and technical aspects of the story.

Personally, I think being able to see and appreciate what went into a story enhances my reading enjoyment. There is also no better way for a writer to learn about the craft. There is a world of difference between understanding a concept and seeing an example of that concept at work.

Do you analyze stories while you read them? Do you go back and analyze them after you’ve finished them? How does this help you learn about the craft of writing?

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin blessed weird people

Here’s to dreaming and believing and embracing the possibilities even when we don’t know what they are. Happy reading. Happy writing. See you on the other side! 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit – Scared Dog & Cat : linein via Compfight cc
Photo Credit – Flower Plate: MuseumWales via Compfight cc

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Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

This week’s question is part of a series based on 100th episode (“Ask The Readers Anything” ) of the UK-based podcast, The Readers. We thought it would be interesting (and fun!) to answer these questions from the perspective of writers who also (obviously) love to read. 

QUESTION: What, in your opinion, makes a book a good book? (Loaded question, we know, but let’s just dive right in, shall we?)

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: For me, it’s when my attention is caught and held. When I’m immediately drawn into the story — it doesn’t matter if it’s the characters, setting, or plot, but as long as something draws me in and has me curious enough to read the next paragraph and the next and the next, then it’s a good book. I just read a book last weekend, Boiled Over, by Barbara Ross. Sadly I started it late at night and had to stop reading at some point to sleep, but I finished it first-thing the next morning. It’s a 300+ page cozy mystery, but I was drawn in by the setting (Maine seacoast) and the characters and I couldn’t stop turning the pages. It brought back great memories of my own Maine summer vacations on the beach. I loved it! You can read my review of it here, if you like. This is the 2nd in a series. I need to go back and read the first now!

I haven’t found a perfect description for a good book – and what I think is good you might not like because we have different preferences. So, this loaded question is only going to offer so much for answers!

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Susan Nye: The books that I love all have one thing in common, wonderful writing.

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Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: This is a tough question. The books I love are the books that stay with me–the ones I think about after I have finished them. Books that make me think about something in a different way, or recognize something I didn’t before. I think the story has to be great, but that doesn’t mean a lot has to happen. One of the books that comes to mind is Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham. I read it years ago but it’s still with me. The transformation of the main character is what really stayed with me, I think. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t read it, but it’s a book I had to force myself to keep reading in the beginning but became a book I couldn’t put down. Another favorite, I Know This Much is True, by Wally Lamb, is the same. I slogged through the beginning but I’m still thinking about it (and the main character) years later. That, to me, is the test that has to be passed to be a good book. (The Corrections just came to mind. Can’t say I loved the book but based on my reaction to it, it’s a great book–to me.)

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: This IS a loaded question and one that can only be answered in the context of defining personal preferences. I agree with Lisa that a good book has to grab you and refuse to let go. I also agree with Susan that it must have wonderful writing. That point may be debatable based on the legion fans of hugely successful books that aren’t that well written, but in those cases I would argue that it’s the story – not the writing – that deserves the credit. I also agree with Diane that a good book will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.

But, if I’m going to get down to brass tacks and define what makes a book a good book for ME, I’ll repeat the random list of attributes that I originally shared in my Weekend Edition post on book lust:

  • An Element of Magical Realism Though my younger self was most interested in literary fantasy and quality SciFi, grown-up me has developed a taste for stories that are based in this world but have elements of the magical.
  • An Element of Mystery Though I don’t read many books in the mystery genre, I do love a bit of mystery. Many of my favorite stories include a puzzle that needs solving – an unidentified character, an unknown origin story, a mysterious artifact.
  • A Poetic Voice Though I know little of poetry proper, I love when a book includes poetic prose and/or unorthodox structure. Though some people dislike a disjointed flow, I love finding and falling into the rhythm of a unique narration style.
  • A Female Protagonist Though I have loved plenty of books with male protagonists as well, I am particularly smitten with stories that tell the tale of a girl or woman. I suppose this is because I can relate to the story more easily.
  • True Transformation Though I am not immune to the allure of action and comedy, my favorite stories are the ones about the evolution of a heart, a mind, or a soul. I’m a sucker for a good before and after.
  • A Satisfying but Open Ending While I like closure as much as the next reader, my favorite endings also leave me with a sense of what might come after the words “The End.” It’s not so much about hoping for a sequel as it is about feeling like the story and its characters live on beyond the pages I’ve read.

 

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Art is Worth Fighting For

Silver Lining

Silver Lining

Yesterday’s Fourth of July holiday was a bit soggy around my neck of the woods, but the day turned out to have an unexpected silver lining. Though we didn’t get to enjoy cookouts or fireworks (and my daughter was in Maine with her dad), my beau and I did get to enjoy a very relaxing afternoon on the sofa with our two cats, Cinder Kitten and Bella Mama Thunderpaws. We got to watch a couple of good movies, laugh at some smart stand-up comedy, and even take (be still my beating heart) a short NAP. It felt like we were declaring independence from The Grind.

One of the movies we watched was The Monuments Men - a film that I have passed by many times because I am not a big fan of war movies. Having finally watched it, I’m sorry now that I let such a silly prejudice get in the way of enjoying such an inspiring and uplifting story.

The movie is based real life events that took place towards the end of World War II when a small task force of art experts (six Americans and a Frenchman) are sent to Germany to find, recover, and ultimately return the tens of thousands of pieces of artwork, including many masterpieces, that the Nazis stole and hid over the course of the war. I will not give away too much of the story (because, you really should watch it), but I was struck by this speech that George Clooney’s character, Frank Stokes, gives in an attempt to inspire his team of decidedly non-military museum directors, curators, and art historians:

You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for.

Art is often considered a nice-to-have. Though men are almost always willing to die for country, family, or gold, most would not even consider putting their lives on the line for a work of art. And yet, it is these works of art, these “achievements” that define us – more than our names, more than our lands, more than our wealth. Names, lands, and wealth are only temporary manifestations of our most rudimentary selves. Art, on the other hand, is the deep and complex reflection of our souls. It is the physical representation of our essence. The art that was at stake during WWII was some of the most iconic, inspiring, and cherished art ever created – each painting and sculpture a small but important piece of humanity’s grace.

Though our own artistic toils may never become a matter of international military operations, that does not lessen their value. Our freedom to consume and create art and literature of all kinds is one of our most important liberties. Art does not only reflect our souls, it inspires them. It lets us dream. It gives us hope.  If that’s not worth fighting for, I don’t know what is.

 

What I’m Writing:

This week, I’m working on a feature piece about an upcoming open studio that’s going to take place right in my neighborhood. The event will feature a broad variety of artists including dancers, musicians, painters, potters, photographers, and bookmakers. As I prepare for the piece, I’m enjoying the chance to interview some of the participating artists about their work and the event.

I used to get pretty nervous when I had to interview a source for a piece, but now I mostly just try to have fun with the process. Wendy wrote a great piece on how to prepare for and conduct source interviews and I agree with her advice, especially the bit about being flexible. Though I always have a list of questions handy, I never pass up an opportunity to follow the interviewee’s line of thought down a new path. Usually, that’s where the best ideas and information come from (not to mention new story ideas).

Still from Wes Anderson's movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Still from Wes Anderson’s movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel

I also, just this morning, had a new idea for a story that I’m going to start sketching out in my head (and then in a notebook). The idea came to me because of a real life project my beau and I are thinking about tackling. I love it when real life inspires story ideas. And, really, isn’t that always the way it happens? The other movie we watched yesterday was the gorgeously artful and delightfully quirky The Grand Budapest Hotel. Like The Monuments Men, this film also contained a great quote about art. In one of the opening scenes, the author of the book, The Grand Budapest Hotel, appears to be preparing for a speech. Reading from index cards, the writer explains the source of story:

It is an extremely common mistake. People think that the writer’s imagination is constantly at work,that he’s constantly inventing an endless supply of incidents and episodes, that he simply dreams up his stories out of thin air. In point of fact, the opposite is true. Once the public knows you’re a writer, they bring the characters and events to you and as long as you maintain your ability to look and to carefully listen, these stories will continue to … seek you out over your lifetime. To him who has often told the tales of others, many tales will be told.

Sometimes, all you have to do is listen.

 

What I’m Reading:

year of pleasuresThis week, I enjoyed another “quiet” novel. The Year of Pleasures is my first time reading Elizabeth Berg. As with so many of the novels I’ve read lately, I did not seek this book out, but rather stumbled upon it accidentally. I was killing a few moments while my daughter was talking “in private” with our friend who is a librarian. To avoid the appearance of eavesdropping, I thumbed through the collection of books for sale on the small library cart across from the circulation desk. The cover image and the dust jacket blurb were enough to persuade me to hand over $1.00 for the hardcover. I’m glad I did.

Here is the brief synopsis from Berg’s site:

When Betta Nolan’s husband, John, dies, she honors a promise she made to him to sell their house, drive across the country until she finds a town she likes, and move there. This is a novel about starting life over, and purposely enriching that life with the many pleasures, especially the small and free ones, that are always available to us. It also challenges the notion that a widow must or should behave in a certain way; and it shows how love does not die, but rather changes form.

Though Berg’s writing is lovely and the story (though mostly predictable) ultimately gave me a cozy case of the warm and fuzzies, what I enjoyed most about this book was the narrator’s voice. From the beginning, Betta felt like a real person to me. A cover blurb from The Charlottesville Observer references one of Berg’s other novels, Talk Before Sleep, but says something that I think reflects what I felt about The Year of Pleasures, “Berg captures the way women think …” There is an unaffected honesty to Berg’s characters that drew me in. I will admit to shedding a few tears over their tragedies, and also to smiling broadly at their triumphs.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin one true sentence

Happy Independence Day. Have a great rest of your weekend & don’t forget to make time to read and to write. 

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Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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