Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Book Reviewing: Write about what you know (Books!) or what you want to know more about (More Books!)

When I first left librarianing to set off on a writing life, my friend Beth Jacks offered up a suggestion. I could write book reviews about southern books, on her fun website USADeepsouth. Great practice and a good way to read new, interesting books. I love the South, I love reading. I accepted her offer.

About this time, I heard writer Betty Hicks at a New School panel on Writing for Children in New York City. I love these evenings and always take away a gem from whoever is speaking. Betty Hicks mentioned writing reviews as a good excuse to read all the latest kids' books, a way to keep up with the industry. Now that I'd left my connection to kids and books (said job as a school librarian), this seemed like a perfect fit for me. I followed her advice and applied to review books for a Children's Literature website.

Then I discovered Crescent Blues and Jean Marie Ward, editor extraordinaire. Jean Marie would force me to think about verbs like I hadn't thought about them since Mrs. Effie Glassco's senior English class (that would be Cleveland, MS. HIGH SCHOOL senior English). Too many "wases" and she'd reject. And forget that contrary helping verb "has." Passive voice= sinful! So I learned to write tight reviews that were interesting to read or I would be dismissed from the job. Crescent Blues is no longer publishing book reviews but I learned a lot there.

Did I mention the job of book reviewing is no way to earn a living? Just free books, free exposure, and a terrific way to read and think.

Sometimes getting a foot into a book reviewing door can be elusive. I just missed a connection to my local newspaper when they changed Book editors. I've had other near misses, which shall remain nameless. I queried the Christian Science Monitor's editor a couple of times before she accepted one of my favorite new books. Greetings from Nowhere.

So, like most other writing gigs, persistance pays off. It also pays to make deadlines, write well, be honest, stick to your word count, and watch out for all those "to be" verbs! Thanks, Jean Marie.

What I've learned along the way about book reviewing:

1. Read the book, maybe more than once.
2. Sticky notes are your friend.
3. If you review a book by someone you know, or by a publisher/agent/ publicist you are courting, be honest or don't write the review.
4. Book reviews, other than the short evaluations for industry pubs, should be well written and worth reading, even fun/challenging/ eye-opening, just like any good writing.
5. A good review contains a sentence or two about the author, mention of the plot, something juicy about the characters/setting/ style- Is it humorous? laugh-out-loud funny? Snappy dialogue?

Final piece of advice- When the pile by your chair teeters precariously higher than the dog, you have too many books to read.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Reading and Watching

Today was the first ACC Tournament game for my beloved Tarheels. Love, love, love the team this year. I'm amazed to think about how many seasons we've spent in front of the TV watching great teams and ok teams since Jay and I graduated from Chapel Hill. From our student days when we'd sneak into Dr. Fogle's class late, having stood in line to get our tickets, right up to now, we've never not cheered on the basketball teams. Those years in the early 80s when I'd watch with my next-door neighbors, Paula and Charlie. Then the fun games with Nonie and Brooke at their house in Summit. Nonie's daughter's friends claimed it was as much fun watching us watch the 'heels as it was watching the game. Brooke still leaves the TV if they get down by the slightest of margins. All his fault if they're losing, yessireee!

Today I kept getting distracted from the game --pretty hard for me to do-- by a book I'd just picked up at the library. Laurie Halse Anderson's newest YA page-turner, Twisted. I mean, there's no way that book was written by a non-teenaged boy! She really nailed the characters, all of them. Hannah, the perfect rendition of a kid sister/ h.s. freshman. And Tyler. Wow is all I can say.

But of course, I did read mostly during commercials. Had to support the Carolina Blue!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day, early

I grew up in the South where stories were expected, especially around the dinner table, especially on Sundays. Noontime dinners were a big deal, lots of food, lots of relatives, lots of stories. My grandmother and my father were the best storytellers. So now, without those big family dinners, I just write down the stories. That's probably why I like writing personal essays. Thanks to my writing group mentor Lee, who taught me alot about the genre, I've had some success in publishing a few.

The Christian Science Monitor's Home Forum has published four of my essays, including one about St. Patrick's Day in yesterday's newspaper. Click on it for my friend Barbara's recipe for colcannon, also adapted from Edel's mom's recipe. Yum. Wish I had some right now.

An extra added attraction, or perhaps something to be avoided, is that I was also interviewed about my article. The microphone icon is clickable if you dare. But now I know why my mother always refused to be recorded. My brother-in-law George videotaped every Christmas morning and Mama ran in the opposite direction of that camera. Having heard my own voice on the website, from now on I, too, will shun the microphone.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What would I do without my writing group?

My friend Leslie and I think it was fate that put us together that fall day. I was working at Kent Place School and she was a newly-arrived spouse living on campus. She was a writer, I the librarian. Then we realized we had many more connections--writers we know, books we love, college connections. And we became great friends. Such good friends that when I retired from a long, happy, challenging, fun career, Leslie had the perfect solution for my next life. She knew I loved to write, had published a few journal articles. Join her writers group! she insisted. Work on my novel! Or at least an essay or two.

Kay, Leslie, Lee, Ann and I met every week- that's right, every week-- for over five years. I wrote a mid-grade manuscript, book reviews, a few essays. Leslie mentored with great patience. Then we moved, became quasi snowbirds, or "splitters" as we are often referred to. Splitting our time between New Jersey and Florida. How was I going to survive without a critique group? Enter SCBWI. Now I have two terrific groups. Not to mention the best online critique buddy, AKA as The Logic Police. Life is good. Like yesterday, when I was pulling my hair out over title picking, my Florida group- Teddie, Melissa and Greg- brainstormed titles with me, and they saved the day. Even Leslie, now living in Massachusetts but only a phone call away, weighed in on title choices. Like I said, what would I do without my writers.