More Time to Read and a Different Way to Write

 

I love reading. I always have. I have fond memories of the old Dr. Doolittle books and Ben and Me and oh, so many other great kids books of ages long gone by.

As I entered my teen years, my tastes matured as well, although I don’t recall what I read then other than science fiction. Especially space travel, which at that time seemed like an impossible dream.

Then I ended up majoring in English in college, and I HAD to read so many books that I seldom (if ever) had a chance to read for pleasure anymore. I’ll never forget the course on the 20th Century Novel I took in my very last semester. We studied some pretty weird books, but one of the slightly less weird books really caught my fancy…John Barth’s The Floating Opera.

As it turned out, I moved to Cambridge, Maryland, after college and taught there for six-plus years. And that’s the setting of The Floating Opera. I was fascinated to reread that book and walk down the street from my boarding house and look more closely at the places Barth described so vividly.

Teaching 9th grade English, I got caught up in handling book club orders for my students, and I fell in love with some of the best of teen fiction at the time. Who could ever forget The Pigman or any of the other popular teen books from the late sixties and early seventies? Not all of them were pleasant. Like Go Ask Alice.

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Once I got away from teaching, however, I also got away from the teen book influence. James Michener’s novels captivated me. Not just because they were excellent reads, but because he was living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at the time, and that fascinated me.

Especially when my former wife  came home announcing that she’d gone with one of our church members (who did secretarial work for Mr. Michener) took her to his home to meet him. What irony. She wouldn’t have waded through one of his novels to save her life.

For what it’s worth, she did introduce me to Mrs. Michener when she saw and recognized her in a department store one day. Nice, but not the same as meeting him would have been.

After writing my first novel, I discovered how much novels had changed over the years. Those books I’d barely tolerated that last semester of college were pretty typical. Gone were numerous introductory pages (or in Mr. Michener’s case, multiple chapters) of backstory. The author needed to hook the reader in the first paragraph. Preferably in the first sentence.

Modern life is fast-paced, and the contemporary novel must maintain the reader’s interest from start to finish or be thrown away or returned. Although I have an almost complete set of everything James Michener wrote (the picture above is of just some of my collection), even I no longer have the patience to plod through his books again.

I could tell you more, but I think you get the idea.

Not only did I have to learn to write differently than I’d learned to write in college, I learned to read and enjoy a different style of fiction.

And one of the joys of retirement is having the time to read as much as I want to. Not that I ever expect to return to James Michener. Like the man himself, my interest in that kind of reading has died.

Do you read fiction or non-fiction? What’s your favorite book? Do you still remember a favorite childhood book? Please share a comment with the rest of us.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Are My Novels Autobiographical?

More than once I’ve been asked if my novels are autobiographical. A reasonable question from people who know me well and probably a reasonable one from people who don’t know me.

My first two published novels were written from a teen girl’s point of view and several of my unpublished manuscripts are written from a woman’s point of view. So let me hasten to emphasize that I am all male and have no inclination towards changing my gender. So from that perspective my novels are NOT autobiographical. Not in the least.

My novels do tend to reflect some of my characteristics, however. One of the fun things in a yet-unpublished manuscript is the female protagonist’s description of the male protagonist, whom she is growing to love:

That man was so cute about not wasting gas. I’d been with him when we were three or four cars back at the bank drive-thru. He turned the engine off whenever the line moved up one spot and started it again only when the front car moved on. As if that didn’t tickle me enough, he also turned the car off once he reached the window.

I finally convinced him it wasn’t safe to keep turning the engine off at red lights. Thank goodness he didn’t do it at stop signs.

Whenever I teased him about being so economical, he always responded the same way. “Starting the engine wastes less gas than leaving it running longer than a minute.”

I’d never heard that before, but it was one of those little rules Robbie lived by, and I couldn’t knock saving gas—and, consequently, money.

Although I’ve never turned off the engine at traffic lights or stop signs, the rest of that is a pretty accurate description of how economical I am about gas. Even now when the prices have dropped so amazingly.

Another thing I tend to do in my writing is to make the protagonist an only child–and frequently with deceased parents. Yep, those things are me, too.

Because I love to make puns and other word plays, that characteristic sometimes comes out in my characters. And even in my titles. As in Impractically Yours.

Divorce is part of both my past and my wife’s, and that plays an important part in several of my novels. Including one that’s about two couples trying to hide their pending divorces from one another. That part’s not autobiographical, though.

And then there’s my growing preference for using older characters, one or two as old as I am. Oh, and several involve PKs (preachers’ kids), and that’s definitely me. At least one of my characters is a guitarist and song writer, just like guess who.

And all of my stories are told from a Christian perspective. Because of the importance of my faith, I doubt I could write anything else if I tried.

So, to make a long story only slightly shorter, you’ll find a lot in my books that relates to me personally, but no one book is all about me. And I don’t expect to write one that does. Better to keep my readers guessing…

Do you have a favorite author you think or know writes fictitiously about himself or herself? How about leaving a comment?

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Fact or Fiction?

Probably the most common piece of advice a new writer learns is “write what you know.”

I was thinking about that recently while working on my twentieth revision of a novel manuscript called Impractically Yours. It’s a love story about a middle aged man and woman who become best friends but are afraid of spoiling their friendship by actually falling in love. They both have trust issues, and Robbie nearly wrecks his relationship with Maria by playing an unfortunate practical joke she has promised to take well but fails to do.

Many non-writers are familiar with “write what you know” as well. No wonder they sometimes ask whether I’m the protagonist in my novels.

The answer is no. Not really. Or at least not completely. But Robbie and I do have some characteristics in common:

  • Robbie is a Christian–and a Baptist; me, too
  • He’s middle-aged; I was middle-aged when I wrote the original version of this novel
  • Robbie considers himself average-looking, and even Maria describes him as nondescript; that’s how I see myself
  • Robbie has played guitar for many years and has at least a passing familiarity with some other instruments; me, too
  • Robbie has a beautiful old Martin guitar; I have a lesser, more recent one
  • Robbie’s musical style dates back to the folk fad of the 1960s and he’s never outgrown it; boy, is that me!
  • Robbie writes Christian songs; I do, too
  • Robbie is big on home recording and happy to make the move from analog to digital recording; that’s me to a T
  • Robbie is a practical joker, a joker, and a punster; I’m a punster and joker, but definitely not a practical joker
  • Robbie had a very limited social life in high school; ditto!
  • Robbie and I prefer for a woman to have long, straight, naturally colored hair and almost no makeup–especially not the heavy eye makeup that he and I describe as “the raccoon look”
  • Robbie overcomes his fear of old people and visits a local nursing home regularly; I’m part of a weekly nursing home ministry

I could probably go on for pages, but no need to bore you unnecessarily. The point is Robbie and I are similar in many ways, but we’re not the same person at all.

There are similarities in my other novels as well. Several are about Preacher’s Kids who would rather have fathers with “normal” vocations. Several take place in Virginia and at least one is in an actual Richmond suburb. One is about fighting a weight problem and part of it takes place in a Target store. All of those relate in some way to my background.

If anything, I hope this blog post will make you curious about the next novel you pick up. Is it totally autobiographical or at least partially so? Or does it bare no resemblance to the author’s life circumstances?

Is it fact or is it fiction?

What do you think? How about leaving a comment.

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

What Book Have You Read More than Once?

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I was attending a meeting of our local writers’ group recently, and our leader posed this question. “What book–other than the Bible–have you read more than once?”

Great question! Most of the group mentioned books I was unfamiliar with, but one fellow rereads Lord of the Rings every ten years or so. I’m afraid I was a little shy about admitting that I didn’t enjoy my one reading all that much, but at least I finished it.

My turn, huh?

Okay. I thought about those three bookcases that are chock full of novels. While there are some I ought to donate to Goodwill, many of them were good. Some were excellent. How to choose…

I’m currently reading The Life of Pi after watching the movie, but I doubt seriously I’ll ever read that again. It’s different, though.

What had I read last before that?

Oh, of course. Donn Taylor’s The Lazarus File. Although I have a print version of the book somewhere on one of those book cases, I also have a Kindle version, and that’s the one I read. This last reading was at LEAST the third time.

I would describe this novel as suspense. It’s about a fellow who had to be declared dead and be given a new identity. Not just to keep his enemies from killing him for real, but to allow him to continue working as an undercover agent for one of the intelligence branches of the government.

The title is based on the biblical story of Jesus raising his good friend Lazarus from death and restoring him to life. Rather clever to apply that to the title, I thought.

Lazarus is a good action story that keeps the reader turning pages, but it’s also a unique love story. Mark Daniel–the protagonist’s old name–has been grieving the death of his wife and child for years and has never considered the possibility of falling in love again.

But as Carlos Ortiz, he falls for a beautiful young woman, Sol, who is married to a much older man whose health is precarious. Although she and Mark/Carlos sense a mutual attraction, they behave in an entirely proper way, including one time when he could have taken advantage of her.

I won’t give away whether or how their relationship works out, but the ending of the book is very satisfactory.

Donn Taylor is ex-military, and his knowledge of guns, airplanes, and similar things helped him give The Lazarus File quite a bit of realism.

This isn’t actually the first book of Donn’s that I’ve read three or more times. I thoroughly enjoyed his newest novel, Lightning on a Quiet Night, which is a very different read from his mystery and suspense novels.

Donn, how much did you say you’re paying me to write good things about your books? Ah? A smile of appreciation is all I need.

Readers, what have you read more than once? How about sharing that with us in a comment?

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

If you enjoy my writing, you’ll find a number of things to read on my website. Also music to listen to and music-related videos to watch.

My new novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is available at Amazon.

Tentative-Front-Cover

Best regards,
Roger

 

YA Novels Aren’t Just for Teens

When Barbour Publishing released my first two Young Adult novels in 2011, I soon discovered that most of the positive feedback would come from adults. Not teens.

Since then I’ve learned that’s the norm. Adults love well written Young Adult novels. And I don’t mean just the Harry Potter books or The Hunger Games.

I’d like to believe that’s partially because conscientious parents want to make sure their kids are reading decent books. But I’m realistic enough to know that probably isn’t the case most of the time.

Why then?

I believe adults enjoy teen stories because we remember our own teen years sufficiently well that we can relate to them. And I believe far fewer teens enjoy (decent) adult novels because they cannot relate. They haven’t lived long enough or experienced enough of adult trials and tribulations.

I periodically agree to become an “influencer” for someone else’s new novel. Among other things, that means I receive a copy of the book–sometimes a print copy, sometimes electronic–and read and post reviews of it.

When I volunteered to become an influencer for Marissa Shrock’s YA novel, The First Principle, I did so because the brief synopsis sounded interesting.

Can you imagine a futuristic time (not too far in the future) when the United States as a nation has been replaced by a nation made up of the former United States, Mexico, and Canada? Freedom as we know it is a thing of the past, and the more affluent are in control. People must trust the government to know what’s best for them under all circumstances; that sounds too much like today.

Christians are enemies of the State and the Bible as we know it is illegal. The government has issued an authorized revised Bible meant to appeal to the members of every religion.

Teens are not discouraged from having sex. That, too, sounds too much like today. Every teen girl is vaccinated against pregnancy, but since the vaccine doesn’t always work, girls must take a regularly scheduled pregnancy test. Any teen who gets pregnant automatically faces abortion, and no one thinks of it as murder.

But there’s trouble in paradise. A rebel faction has been building for years, determined to restore the former United States and the freedoms people used to enjoy. And Christians play a huge role in the conspiracy.

What really grabbed my attention when I first opened the book–a print copy–was the fact that Marissa didn’t have the usual list of endorsements by other authors. Instead, she listed seven or eight brief endorsements by teen readers, giving only their first names and their ages. If I were a teen girl, that would probably have sold me on the book right there.

I’m not going to give away any of the story today. But, if you read the back cover, you learn that Vivica, the teen protagonist, faces some drastic decisions when she becomes illegally pregnant. One thing the author did especially well was to portray Vivica as a well-intended but imperfect teen.

The further I went in my reading, the more drawn in I became. The story was wonderfully suspenseful and the ending quite satisfying–and obviously paving the way for a sequel.

I could’ve live without all of the details about the new country and how it came into being, especially as an information dump at the beginning of Chapter Two. I’m just not sure all of those details were necessary.

But if that’s my biggest criticism, I have to still say that The First Principle is a teen novel well worth reading.

What have you read recently? Any teen books? Care to share with a comment?

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on “As I Come Singing”–check it out HERE. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

My new novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is out now. If you’re interested, please check it out at Amazon.

Best regards,
Roger

Lightning on a Quiet Night

I hate to admit it, but finding fresh blog topics isn’t always easy. I normally write my posts for the following Sunday and Wednesday on the previous Wednesday, and I often already have decent ideas in mind. But not today.

Not until I finished my third reading of a novel called Lightning on a Quiet Night a few minutes ago. Due to be released in November, its author is a friend of mine, Donn Taylor.

Donn is quite a fellow. We’ve known one another from writing conferences for almost ten years now. He’s former military and also a retired college English professor. He is extremely literate and well spoken–a real gentleman–and his novels reflect that fact. He is a poet as well as a novelist.

You probably wondered about my choice to read Lightning on a Quiet Night three times, though. I would if I were you.

Donn originally asked me to endorse his book. You know, write that clever little bit that goes on the cover or front page meant to make potential readers see just how much they’ll enjoy the book. So I read an electronic copy. I was so well impressed I wrote this for my endorsement:

“A unique and intriguing story, expertly told, with compelling characters and an ending that left me sobbing with satisfaction. What more could any discriminating reader ask for?”

And I meant it!

A few months later, Donn was looking for Beta readers. If you’re unfamiliar with the publishing process–unless you need to, I’d recommend you not ever have to go through it yourself–a Beta reader reads a printed copy of the book, looking for mistakes that the book’s editor and proof reader missed. I found only a handful of mistakes.

What I didn’t realize (I didn’t have to go through the Beta process with my two novels from Barbour Publishing) was a second Beta reading would be required to make sure corrections from the first were made and to determine whether additional mistakes can be found. So when Donn approached me for a third read, I was happy to oblige. In fact, I would’ve been thrilled to help even if Donn hadn’t promised to help me the same way.

Interestingly–and this gives you an idea how thorough Donn is–when he read The Devil and Pastor Gus for endorsement purposes–he also made a list of corrections needed. A pre-Beta read, I suppose you could call it.

Lightning on a Quiet Night is quite different from Donn’s other novels. For one thing, it’s a historical novel, set early in the post-World War 2 years. I thought Donn did a wonderful job of reflecting life in that time period. Another difference is that it’s just as much a love story as it is a mystery/suspense. Finally, the town itself almost seems like one of the characters.

The townspeople believe their town to be perfect and good–until the first murder in memory takes place. Even then, they want to believe the murderer must be an outsider. By the end of the story, the residents recognize that their belief in the town’s virtue has blinded them to its faults.

Just as lightning on a quiet night revealed a dead body, so horrible circumstances can bring to light things that are not easily seen otherwise.

Donn’s book is available now for pre-order. Look for it here.

Please share your opinion of Donn’s book based on what I’ve said or leave a comment about whether you mind my writing about somebody’s book periodically.

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on “As I Come Singing”–check it out HERE. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

Be on the lookout for my next novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, which releases on November 25. It’s available for pre-order HERE.

Best regards,
Roger

 

A Time to Read

michener

I love reading. I always have. I have fond memories of the old Dr. Doolittle books and Ben and Me and oh, so many other great kids books of years gone by.

As I entered my teen years, my tastes matured as well, although I don’t recall what I read then other than science fiction. Especially space travel, which at that time seemed like an impossible dream.

Then I ended up majoring in English in college, and I HAD to read so many books that I seldom (if ever) had a chance to read for pleasure anymore. I’ll never forget the course on the 20th Century Novel I took in my very last semester. We studied some pretty weird books, but one of the slightly less weird books really caught my fancy…John Barth’s The Floating Opera.

As it turned out, I moved to Cambridge, Maryland, after college and taught there for six-plus years. And that’s the setting of The Floating Opera. I was fascinated to reread that book and walk down the street from my boarding house and look more closely at the places Barth had described so vividly.

Teaching 9th grade English, I got caught up in handling book club orders for my students, and I fell in love with some of the best of teen fiction at the time. Who could ever forget The Pigman or any of the other popular teen books from the late sixties and early seventies? Not all of them were pleasant; I remember Go Ask Alice, too.

Once I got away from teaching, however, I also got away from the teen book influence. James Michener’s novels captivated me. Not just because they were excellent reads, but because he was living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at the time, and that fascinated me.

Especially when my wife (now my ex-) came home announcing that she’d gone with one of our church members who did secretarial work for Mr. Michener to their home and met him. What irony. She wouldn’t have waded through one of his novels to save her life…

For what it’s worth, my ex- was able to introduce me to Mrs. Michener when she recognized her in a department store one day. Not the same as meeting him would have been, though.

Once I’d written my first novel, I discovered how much novels had changed over the years. Those books I’d barely tolerated that last semester of college were actually typical now. Gone were introductory pages (or in Mr. Michener’s case, multiple chapters) of backstory. The author has to hook the reader in the first paragraph. Preferably in the first sentence.

Modern life is fast-paced, and the contemporary novel must maintain the reader’s interest or be thrown away or returned. Although I had an almost complete set of everything James Michener had ever written (the picture above is of just some of my collection), even I no longer had the patience to plod through his books again.

I could go on now, but I think you get the idea.

Not only did I have to learn to write differently than I’d learned to write in college, I learned to read and enjoy a different style of fiction.

And one of the joys of retirement is having the time to read as much as I want to. Not that I ever expect to return to James Michener. Like the man himself, my interest in that kind of reading has died.

Do you read fiction or non-fiction? What’s your favorite book? Do you still remember a favorite childhood book? Please share a comment with the rest of us.

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog.  “As I Come Singing”check it out here–posts lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Best regards,
Roger