Monday, April 14, 2014

Booktopia Vermont: Day 3

Steve Himmer
Sunday morning was the final event of Booktopia Vermont. Author Steve Himmer joined Ann, Michael, and a few dozen Booktopians back at the Northshire Bookstore for a discussion on the topic Reading Like a Writer.

What does it mean to read like a writer? How do you do it?  Can you ever not read as a writer after you learn how to? Where do audiobooks fit into this mix?

I really enjoyed this discussion. It seemed that everyone was pretty much in agreement that English majors and voracious readers tend to read for the story, character, and themes. Sure, such readers are often struck by a beautiful scene or sentence, but digging in and unpacking how such a beautiful scene was constructed to understand how it caused that effect is not something most readers get into. At least not most of us who were in the room nodding in agreement. Writers do dig in. Steve mentioned that he'll re-read books important to him several times to see how the writer does what he does in order to learn those techniques.

So when writers read they see things readers don't necessarily pay attention to although readers will/might feel these things. This is neither good nor bad; it just is. Author Matthew Dicks was in attendance and made the comparison to a friend of his who builds houses. The friend walks into a house and sees every thing behind the walls, he no longer just appreciates a pretty room. In fact, may not be able to simply see only a pretty room anymore. The point being that writers, as story builders, see the underpinning, the structural beams holding up the created story.

This analogy resonated with me. I thought about when we bought our first house. Like most first time home buyers we were so naive--we were all about the style of the house, how we would inhabit its space, where it was located in relation to what was important to us. Looking for our second home was a different experience. We were still concerned about the style, the space, the location, but we also knew what to look for in terms of structural soundness, health of the mechanicals, proper drainage, etc. I can still appreciate a nice looking house, but I'm also more aware of the nuts & bolts and potential issues a house may have.

P.S. Duffy
One of my favorite comments came from Penny Duffy who said (and I am nowhere near as eloquent as she was when she said this) that during a first draft the writer is writing like a reader--writing to get the story, images, and characters onto the page. Then, during subsequent drafts, the writer is reading like a writer--looking for opportunities to apply the tools of the trade in order to transform the draft into a seemingly effortless story for other readers to enjoy. I hope I got that right. It makes perfect sense to me.

Once writers intimately understand how a story is constructed, can they ever read for pleasure? Steve said he reads outside of the genre he's writing in for pleasure. For one, he isn't comparing technique, and two, he isn't being influenced by content that's similar to what he may be writing. Not reading a book that's on the same subject you're writing about is the easiest way to avoid charges of plagiarism. I have heard that's why Patricia Cornwell doesn't read mystery/thriller novels (and she was accused of plagiarism in the past).

Matthew Dicks said he finds that listening to audiobooks makes him less critical of the writing. He simply listens and enjoys the story. A Booktopian said the exact opposite happens to her, that she is more analytical when listening to audiobooks. Interesting, right? I wonder how much these opposing reactions have to do with learning styles. My critical tools go out the window when I'm listening to an audiobook. If anything bothers me its usually the narrator's voice. I'm more of a visual and tactile learner than an auditory learner.

This brought up an experience that Kelly Corrigan had. Her latest book was already typeset and she was recording the audiobook version. Through reading her work out loud, she found all sorts of changes that she wanted to make. 1,100 to be exact. And since the book was already typeset she had to pay for the changes to be made, but she did because they were that important. Bruce Holsinger told someone that he cringed a bunch of times at his own writing when listening to his book in audio. So note to writers: read your work aloud! [Cayt, if you're reading this, remember how you told me to do that last year?? You're brilliant!]

I could go on and on about this session and how awesome it was, but hopefully the recorder worked and you'll eventually hear it on Books on the Nightstand.

If you're interested in learning how to read like a writer, check out Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them. I have the book and started reading it earlier this year, but got a little overwhelmed. I think I'll go back to it, but take it much more slowly. Its not only for writers, but for readers who want to learn how to read more deeply.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Booktopia Vermont: Day 2

The highlight of the day for me was attending Gail Caldwell's afternoon event.

Gail Caldwell and Michael Kindness
I adore Gail's memoir, Let's Take the Long Way Home, and am looking forward to reading her new one, New Life, No Instructions 

But first, some shots from around town (Manchester, Vermont).

Future home of the Manchester Community Library.

Ye Olde Tavern . . .
. . . wining & dining since 1790 (website).
Flying Cow Signs (website)

The American Museum of Fly Fishing (website). Notice the marble side walk. There's lots of marble around town. I'll have to ask someone about that tomorrow.
The view up Main Street from the Northshire Bookstore.
The Northshire Bookstore runs on solar power. How cool is that?
#shelfie in Northshire. Some day I'll own my own cow.
And here we are at the big Saturday night author event. Ann and Michael say a few words to a standing room only crowd. It appeared that all 85 Booktopians and lots of folks from the community attended.
Bruce Holsinger read us Caedmon's Hymn in both Old English and modern English. So beautiful.
Gail Caldwell: "Writing is a solitary act of faith."
John Demos. His new book is The Heathen School: A Story of Hope & Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic. An earlier book of his, The Unredeemed Captive (1995), is still selling strong at Northshire. In fact, they've sold more copies of the book than any bookstore in the country. I'm embarrassed to admit I bought that book when it first came out and I've yet to read it. I just moved it toward the top of my TBR list!
Rupert Thomson: now a posh author, but once upon a time he was the winter caretaker of Miriam Margolyes's (Professor Sprout) house in Tuscany.
P.S. (Penny) Duffy talked about the inspiration for writing stories, the fire that a writer feels to explore a subject.
Kelly Corrigan. Shoplifter. Wow, is she funny! Glitter and Glue is her new book.
The one canine in attendance fell asleep a time or two, but overall seemed to enjoy the evening as much all as the humans in the room. Each author spoke for about 10 minutes and afterwards signed copies of their books. Ann and Michael recorded tonight's event and will eventually feature the authors on Books on the Nightstand. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Booktopia Vermont: Day 1

What is Booktopia, you ask?
"Booktopia is a series of three annual reader/author weekend events, held at various locations around the US in partnership with great independent bookstores."
Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness of the podcast Books on the Nightstand started Booktopia several years ago in Manchester, Vermont. They have have since included more locations throughout the US, but each event is capped off at 85 attendees and 6 authors in order to keep the experience on the intimate side. And one of the three events, I'm told, will always be held in Manchester in partnership with the Northshire Bookstore.

This year the Vermont event sold out in six minutes. I was on the waiting list and was invited to come on Wednesday. I lucked out! This is my first Booktopia, but some attendees are old hands.

Here are some pictures from Day 1:
Bibliophiles queuing up, waiting for the doors of the First Baptist Church to open. This year the author events are held inside this church and in the Northshire Bookstore, which is the blue-green building in the back.
Ann and Michael kick things off.

Bruce Holsinger, author of the Chaucer historical thriller A Burnable Book, and P.S. Duffy, author of the World War I novel The Cartographer of No Man's Land, discuss historical fiction.
Rupert Thomson reads from his new novel Secrecy. This novel is also historical fiction, set in Florence in 1691. This is not the Florence of the Renaissance days, but a dark, repressive Florence where pleasure is outlawed. A composer friend of Thomson's may be turning this story into an opera.

Here's a shot of the Northsire Bookstore (on the left) and the First Baptist Church (on the right).
I also attended the Yankee Book Swap which was held at the Inn at Manchester. For this event attendees were asked to bring a wrapped book of their choice, either a favorite or even a gag book. The books were placed on a table and we were each given a lottery ticket. When your number was called you chose a book and opened it. The person who gave that book said their name, where they're from, and why they gave that book. There are folks where from Seattle to Florida and everywhere in between. It was a nice icebreaker. The second person to open a book on down to the last, were able to "steal" a book from someone else if they preferred a different book, and then at the end the first person could "steal" any book they wanted. There was some stealing going on and lots of laughter. 
The book I gave was Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, one of my all-time favorites, and the book I received was Night Film by Marisha Pessl.
Manchester is a New England resort town in the Green Mountains of Vermont. I'll have more time to explore tomorrow and Sunday and will try to share some pictures each day.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Going to the Birds in Connecticut

A squirrel dangle-dining outside my window.
For my birthday last month I received a gift certificate to The Audubon Shop in Madison, CT. The primary mission of my first visit was to find a squirrel-proof bird feeder.

Although we had a bird house in our yard where we lived in Illinois, we did not feed the birds. Our yard was postage-stamp-small and the squirrels already liked to torment our dog, Lola, so there was no way we were going to put out something like seed to tempt them to hang around even more.

One squirrel in particular would run back and forth along the top of the six foot fence we installed (our dog's a jumper) or just sit one a nearby branch or garage and chatter at her. We  worried about Lola's welfare as she ran full speed and flung herself at the fence to get at the cocky, urban squirrel. Lola's head and shoulder cleared the fence...if she ever hooked her arm over the top, she'd have been able to scramble over and come closer to having squirrel for lunch.

But I digress.

Here in Connecticut we have a larger back yard and also a front yard that also lends itself to a bird feeder. My Mom's BFF Marge bought us our first bird feeder as a housewarming gift. The squirrels here do not harass Lola (knock on wood). They seem to consider her a threat and run away like proper squirrels should when faced with an attacking mammal over ten times their size. However, squirrels being squirrels, they do go for the bird seed. So off to the Audubon Shop I went.

They carry several several squirrel-proof bird feeders at the shop and I purchased the one the owner recommended. Then I spent time browsing the hundreds, if not thousands, of bird-related utilitarian and decorative things. Included in the thousands of things is a fabulous selection of books on birds. They have books on birds from all over the world. The owner, from conversations I overheard, is an international birder and often jets off to exotic locations for the birds.

The book that I was most interested in finding was one that could help me identify all the new-to-me birds here in Connecticut. The large stack of Birds of Connecticut Field Guide drew my eye.

It's a pocket sized book (4.5 x 6 x 0.5") and seems like it will wear well. The paper is slick photo-quality stock that beautifully shows off the colors of birds. When you open the book the left-hand page is a full-color picture of the bird--usually of the male with a smaller photo of the female inset off to the side. The right-hand side is dedicated to details about the bird: size, characteristics of male, female, and juvenile, nests, eggs, incubation, fledgling, migration, food, and a 'compare' category that tells you what birds may be similar. At the bottom of the page is a note from the author that highlights some interesting fact about the bird.

Colored edges makes it easy to start looking for the bird you're trying to ID.
The introduction has helpful information for the beginning birder about bird basics, nests, migration, and how to best use the guide. The bird categories are broken down into color categories and within each color category by size so that you can try as quickly as possible to locate the info on the bird you're trying to identify.

So far I've identified the Dark-Eyed Junco, the Tufted Titmouse, and the House Finch. 

Stan Tekiela is the author of many books on birds, mammals, and nature. 
Visit his website to check out the books on birds for your state. 

This small guide was obviously created with the user in mind and I cannot recommend it enough for the new birder.

Birds of Connecticut Field Guide
Stan Tekiela
Adventure Publications, Inc., 2000
Source: bought it, use it everyday.

Lola in her new yard. The green feeder behind her is the new squirrel-proof bird feeder. Notice we also now have a squirrel baffle on the little wooden feeder. Disclaimer: I love squirrels and think I may have been one in a past life.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose + $25 Amazon Giftcard Giveaway

Visit other stops on this tour!

The Collector of Dying Breaths is the 6th book in M.J. Rose's Reincarnationist Series and her 14th book overall. This is the first book I've read in the series, but I didn't feel that my enjoyment of the book was impeded by not having read the first five. If anything, it made me want to go and read the previous books. It's obvious there's some juicy back-story here.

The action alternates between current day and 16th century France. The contemporary hero is a woman named Jac, a successful mythologist who is a member of a very old and prestigious perfuming family. She's also a "memory tool, able to tap into other people's past lives." After her brother dies while trying to recreate a formula to reanimate people's dying breaths, she grudgingly takes on the project.

The hero in the historic portion of the story is a man named René le Florentin. Rene was an orphan raised in an Italian monastery. He becomes Catherine DeMedici's perfumer and sometime poisoner. Rene also carries on his mentor's work of trying to create a formula that will reanimate dying breaths.

Both stories revolve around the heroes as they try to figure out the formula that will reanimate the souls of dead loved ones and deal with pushy (slightly psychotic) bosses and unscrupulous rivals. It's an old desire, this desperation to bring loved ones back. The tension mounts in both stories as the characters race against time to make the formula work.

There's also some intriguing history woven in, such as the character of Isabeau, René le Florentin's love interest. Isabeau is a fictional character, but she's based on the "flying squadron" of women who were trained spies for Catherine de Medici. These women romanced men in power to get their plans and secrets so that Catherine could use them to her benefit. When Isabeau and Rene first meet she says, "I can't put on armor and go fight for my husband's honor the way his brother did, but I can fight this way."

The writing can be a bit purple at times, but overall this is an entertaining, fast-paced historical thriller/romance.

The Reincarnationist Series in chronological order:
  1. The Reincarnationist (1999)
  2. The Memorist (2008)
  3. The Hypnotist (2010)
  4. The Book of Lost Fragrances (2012)
  5. Seduction (2013)
  6. The Collector of Dying Breaths (2014)

From the publisher:
     From one of America’s most imaginative storytellers comes a passionate tale of love and treachery, spanning the days of Catherine de Medici’s court to the twenty-first century and starring a woman drawn back, time and again, to the past.
     In 1533, an Italian orphan with an uncanny knack for creating fragrance is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. To repay his debt, over the years René le Florentine is occasionally called upon to put his vast knowledge to a darker purpose: the creation of deadly poisons used to dispatch the Queen’s rivals.
     But it’s René’s other passion—a desire to reanimate a human breath, to bring back the lives of the two people whose deaths have devastated him—that incites a dangerous treasure hunt five centuries later. That’s when Jac L’Etoile—suffering from a heartache of her own—becomes obsessed with the possibility of unlocking Rene’s secret to immortality.
     Soon Jac’s search reconnects her with Griffin North, a man she’s loved her entire life. Together they confront an eccentric heiress whose art collection rivals many museums and who is determined to keep her treasures close at hand, not just in this life but in her next.
     Set in the forest of Fontainebleau, crisscrossing the lines between the past and the present, M.J. Rose has written a mesmerizing tale of passion and obsession. This is a gothic tale perfect for fans of Anne Rice, Deborah Harkness, and Diana Galbadon.
About M.J. Rose:
M.J. Rose is the international bestselling author of 13 novels: Lip Service, In Fidelity, Flesh Tones, Sheet Music, Lying in Bed, The Halo Effect, The Delilah Complex, The Venus Fix,The Reincarnationist, The Memorist, The Hypnotist, The Book of Lost Fragrances, and Seduction.

Rose is also the co-author with Angela Adair Hoy of How to Publish and Promote Online and with Randy Susan Meyers of What to Do Before Your Book Lauch.

She is a founding member and board member of International Thriller Writers and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: She runs the popular blog; Buzz, Balls & Hype.

Getting published has been an adventure for Rose who self-published Lip Service late in 1998 after several traditional publishers turned it down. Editors had loved it, but didn’t know how to position it or market it since it didn’t fit into any one genre.

Frustrated, but curious and convinced that there was a readership for her work, she set up a web site where readers could download her book for $9.95 and began to seriously market the novel on the Internet.

After selling over 2500 copies (in both electronic and trade paper format) Lip Service became the first e-book and the first self-published novel chosen by the LiteraryGuild/Doubleday Book Club as well as being the first e-book to go on to be published by a mainstream New York publishing house.
Rose has been profiled in Time magazine, Forbes, The New York Times, Business 2.0, Working Woman, Newsweek and New York Magazine.

Rose has appeared on The Today Show, Fox News, The Jim Lehrer NewsHour, and features on her have appeared in dozens of magazines and newspapers in the U.S. and abroad, including USAToday, Stern, L’Official, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly.

Rose graduated from Syracuse University and spent the ’80s in advertising. She was the Creative Director of Rosenfeld Sirowitz and Lawson and she has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

She lives in Connecticut with Doug Scofield, a composer, and their very spoiled dog, Winka.

Giveaway! Deadline to enter: April 13, 2014
M.J. Rose is giving away two $25 Amazon gift cards to readers on this blog tour. There are 19 stops on this tour so your odds are good. To be eligible to win all you have to do is SHARE this post on Facebook or Twitter. After you share simply cut and paste the URL of your share in the comments section below along with your email address (or email it to me at chris.wolak AT One winner will be chosen from this blog and then entered into the author’s drawing. Good luck! 
Visit other stops on this tour and increase your chances of winning.

The Collector of Dying Breaths
M.J. Rose
Atria Books (April 8, 2014)
384 pages
Genre: historical fiction/thriller/romance
Rating: 3/5 stars
Source: review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Although the publisher also provided the book summary copy and bio copy for this book tour, I only recommend books that I have read and believe may be of interest to my readers.
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