Book clubs are popular places for book readers, but running a successful book club is not as easy is it may seem. Here are some tips for starting and running a club that meets the needs of its members.
1. Set a limit of no more than 12 people. Why? You want the group to remain small enough so that each member feels comfortable expressing his/her views. Big groups can become impersonal or be dominated by a few people.
2. Set a regular meeting schedule. Once a month should work in most cases.
3. Find non-public meeting places. A group I belong to met in the lounge area of a supermarket for a while. Sometimes it was so noisy we couldn’t hear each other.
Published by Black Rose Writing on 2/8/18 The Long Road follows a young man, sometimes in mental turmoil, as he doggedly prepares for his dream career in aerospace engineering. I’m pleased to have first read this work in manuscript form and now to see it available for the world to read.
Question: What are a few of your all-time favorite novels, and what makes them so? Is there a type of fiction that you read most often?
Answer: My all-time favorite is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I gravitate toward stories that are realistic and that include characters who take a long time to overcome their problems but are victorious in the end.(Dickens wrote two separate endings, one of which has Pip “victorious.”) I admire these characters more than those in thrillers.
Dialogue is notoriously difficult. You have to make each character distinctive. The speech needs to sound natural. Unlike you, characters can’t deliberate about word choice. Here are some tips that may help.
DON’T have characters speak grammatically correctly. Dialogue reveals much about your characters, and when they talk like scholars giving lectures, their speech sounds contrived. Even college professors don’t got to follow no rules when chatting with friends. Vary grammatical mistakes for distinctive voices. One character can’t use the right prepositions for save his life. Another get subject-verb agreement wrong. Even if characters speak proper English . . .
DO have them speak in sentence fragments. Ordinarily we take pride in well-crafted sentences, and perhaps a character, say an academic, needs to be erudite or pompous.
Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for money. —Moliere
Recently, I’ve been struggling with this idea of writing for money. Moliere suggests writers are prostituting themselves if they write for money. But what of doctors or lawyers? Doctors charge patients for treating them, and lawyers do the same for advocating, things they’re trained and skilled to do? I’m sure Moliere had complex reasons for thinking this way about selling one’s writing, many connected to his era, economics, and his philosophy on life.
But when I read this quote, I felt a certain twinge, as if I might be damaging myself in some way, exploiting myself, or misusing a talent.
A short way into Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men (recreated so memorably by the Cohen Brothers), the protagonist Llewelyn is out hunting in the plains of southern Texas when he stumbles upon the aftermath of a shootout between rival drug gangs. There are bodies everywhere, and the one survivor is soon to die. But the really important discovery is a satchel full of money. Like a character in a fairy tale, Llewelyn opens the case, and finds unimaginable riches. Here is the key quote:
[H]e reached and unbuckled the two straps and unsnapped the brass latch and lifted the flap and folded it back. It was level full of hundred dollar banknotes. They were in packets fastened with banktape stamped each with the denomination $10,000.
(Another Dyspeptic Powellian Rant)
The catchphrase of the hideously-named NaNoWriMo, ‘the world needs your novel’ is one of the more egregiously fatuous mottoes of commodified literature. Let’s dismiss it at once. The world doesn’t need your novel. There are thousands of brilliant ones already, far too many for anyone to manage to read all of them. So why should we need more? Are you going to outdo Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy? At best, if you’re immensely talented, you’ll manage to say what the greats have been saying for millennia, in a new or newish way.
That brings me to a concomitant lie: that every writer (every human being) is special, and has something unique to contribute. It’s true that each of us is slightly different, but the similarities between us are far greater, and growing greater all the time in this era of groupthink and social media.
When I retired in 2007 and began writing my first novel, I thought my case was unusual––that most writers who had the talent to make a career of writing fiction were discovered when young. Maybe that was true once upon a time, but the world of writing has changed dramatically in the past decade. Today, when I attend writers’ conferences and workshops, half or more are seniors or retired.
To begin a new career is always a daunting undertaking, so what is motivating this generation of older writers to take the plunge? One reason is that people are in better health than ever before when they retire from their work careers. Fewer retire for health reasons, and therefore they have the energy and interest to try something new.
As a mystery writer, I am fortunate to live in the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area with its plethora of agencies involved in fighting crime. Yesterday, I spent the day at the U.S. Treasury Department, finding out how money is made and being amazed at the many intricate details that go into foiling counterfeiters. Even the paper used in printing money, a blend of cotton and linen fibers, is difficult for counterfeiters, who will generally stick to wood fibers.
We took the standard tour for visitors, then were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour by a friend who works as an engraver there. He pointed out the painstaking care and high craftsmanship required to prepare the plates for printing the money. This includes incorporating many more details to foil counterfeiters.
Amidst all of the chaos at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Tampa last week, I actually found some time to write up a somewhat humorous piece about the whole experience. Unfortunately, that document was left behind in the haste of re-packing my bags with almost no recovery time. I arrived home to the realization that we only had a few hours to spare before leaving for Mexico this week, so I don’t recall much of that clever insight. As disoriented as I was, I’m surprised I didn’t forget the laptop.
As all of the major events kicked off last Thursday, I was thrilled to speak with Michael Gills again as we met up for our afternoon fiction reading, “The Places America Forgot.” The audience was fantastic and I think everyone had a great time, even though we certainly missed hearing from our third reader, Jodi Angel, who couldn’t be there because of familial obligations.
After years of neglect, I decided to try to read all three volumes of Remembrance of Things Past. How depressing it was to discover a bookmark towards the end of Volume 2. I had no memory of making it so far. I also had virtually no memory of anytihng I had read.
On June 1, my novel While You Were Gone, about three sisters navigating life and love in the “new” South, will be published by C&R Press. Even though While You Were Gone will be my fifth book, the writing does not get easier. Each new project comes with different problems and challenges.
Here is the synopsis for novel: As young adults growing up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the three Nash sisters are still haunted by their mother’s early death. Shannon, the middle sister, wants to be an investigative journalist. Paige, the youngest, wants to channel Bessie Smith, her mother’s favorite singer. Claire, the oldest, desires stability through family and career.
When their father is diagnosed with terminal cancer, the sisters cope with the loss in different ways.
Among books I pulled off my shelves in search of especially interesting beginnings, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men struck me not only because it’s captivating but because it captivates by description. I must warn the reader, however, that this 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is set primarily in the U.S. South between the two world wars, and its first-person narrator employs racist slurs as a matter of course. But, really, isn’t it better that we face our heritage as a country of slavery and racism?
So if you are willing to accept being shown in the national mirror something we are collectively ashamed of, I ask whether you’ve ever read better descriptive prose than Warren’s beginning of All the King’s Men or whether you’ve ever been more drawn into a book by a descriptive beginning?
Readers are pulled into a novel by the promise of a fascinating story. They finish the novel, though, because of intriguing, realistic characters. Here are a few “do’s” and “don’ts” that may help readers connect to your characters.
DO use real people. Everyone you know has a story that can enliven a fictional character. When you discover that your neighbor whom you’ve known for ten years did jail time for torching a baby food plant, you see everything else about her in a different light. Those same people probably also have interesting traits—Sally likes to flip a quarter across her knuckles—or annoying habits—Henry hums “Muskrat Love” as he eats . Be careful, though, that you . . .
DON’T use real names.
In “Spirit of the Law,” a short story I’ve written, I wanted to explore life after death and something else—how the dead go on living or not living, if only in our memory, in the physical places where we’ve known them.
Of course, I’m not really capturing what life is like after death. It’s my imaginative portrayal of one woman’s experience, and it’s a way of articulating metaphorically how the dead live on in our minds.
It helped to read that Bernard Malamud would write eighteen drafts of a story, working until he got it right. It takes that kind dedication to find a story’s heart. To reach her readers, a writer needs the same kind of persistence as a religious person does in her determination to reach god.
Are audiobooks a substitute for physical books, or even e-books? What do you gain by hearing versus reading a book? What do you lose? And does anyone else feel as lost as I do without a physical book to devour?
I asked these questions last month (Audiobooks: The Chinese Food of Literature) because I noticed that listening to audiobooks was not as fulfilling as reading books. Audiobooks obviously have a place, and considerable merits. But even when I’m “reading” an audiobook, I still feel hunger for a book. A real book.
Despite the audiobook ads claiming that “listening is the new reading,” the experience I have with audiobooks doesn’t feel quite like “reading” to me. I wondered if anyone else felt similarly.
Her first name was India–she was never able to get used to it. It seemed to her that her parents must have been thinking of someone else when they named her. Or were they hoping for another sort of daughter? As a child she was often on the point of inquiring, but time passed, and she never did.
Thus begins Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge published in 1959. (One wonders if today’s editors would let the passive voice of the second sentence stand.)
Back in September in this spot, I was ruminating on the joys and sorrows of writing historical fiction, and what could possibly motivate writers to pursue such a demanding genre. Many of us are drawn to specific points of inspiration, and I mentioned D.C.-based author Carrie Callaghan‘s encounter with a painting as one example. I went back to Carrie and asked if she’d like to share in more detail what drew her to this project and what kept her hooked through long bouts of research. Here’s what she said:
I Stopped and Stared
In the painting, she’s wearing a stiff lace collar as wide as her shoulders, and fine lace cuff at her wrists. In other words, no clothes a painter would actually paint in.
Larry Fondation is the author of five books of fiction, all set primarily in the Los Angeles inner city. Three of his books are illustrated by London-based artist Kate Ruth. He has written for publications as diverse as Flaunt Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Fiction International and the Harvard Business Review. He is a recipient of a Christopher Isherwood Fiction Fellowship. Four of his books have been published in France. In French translation, his work was nominated for SNCF’s 2013 Prix du Polar. His fifth U.S. book, Martyrs and Holymen, will appear in France in September 2018. His sixth book, Time Is the Longest Distance was released in December 2017. We recently discussed writing, L.A., and his new novel.
What exactly is folk art?
When I was on a tour at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg, Va., a guide asked me if I knew what folk art is. I’m an antique collector, and I’ve seen a lot of what I thought was folk art, but I don’t have an exact definition.
The guide suggested that folk art is created by artists who have no formal training in art. Consequently, she said, most folk art paintings lack perspective or at best have very primitive use of perspective, such as outlines. As an example, she pointed out the dark spots beneath the children’s hands in one of Edward Hicks’ versions of “The Peaceable Kingdom.” The painting she was talking about, which hangs in the museum, is shown at left.
I’ve got that craving again, that gnawing, empty feeling I get when I am not reading a book. Over the holidays I tidily finished up Henry James’s Daisy Miller , Paul Auster’s Mr. Vertigo, and a nonfiction book. Since then I’ve been tearing through old magazines and listening to audiobooks. Just yesterday I spent four hours listening to an audiobook while on the road. And I will listen to more of it when driving into town today.
This audiobook is superb: Sebastian Haffner’s memoir, Defying Hitler. I look forward to finishing it. And yet I feel empty, and bookless.
Remember that old saying about feeling hungry again an hour after eating Chinese food? I’m beginning to wonder if audiobooks are the Chinese food of literature.
Tea, Sake, and a Glorious Life: An Interview with Novelist/Philosopher Carol Quinn
Carol Quinn is Professor of Philosophy and a Women’s Studies Associate at Metropolitan State University of Denver and also holds Graduate Faculty status at University of Colorado Denver. She was the 2017 recipient of MSU Denver’s Outstanding Woman Faculty Award and LGBTQ Ally of the Year Award in 2013. Her new novel, The Glorious Life of Jessica Kraut, was released just two weeks ago from Rock’s Mill Press.
Ron Cooper: Carol, I’m excited about the appearance of your new novel. We’ll get to that in a moment, but first tell us something about your background—where you grew up, your education, your early academic interests, etc.
Carol Quinn: I am a California girl who deeply misses the ocean and was forcibly transplanted to Colorado.
Whenever I read another writer’s novel, I’m curious about what that person’s process was in composing the book. Writer’s approaches to their work are as individual as the various themes they write about. No two methods are the same.
For me, Curva Peligrosa first took hold of me back in 2000. Here is what I wrote in my writer’s journal on 7/16/00:
Was taken with the image of the tornado that swept into Pine Lake, a resort near Red Deer, Alberta, yesterday, and has killed several people, flattening trailers etc. It isn’t the destruction that interests me. It’s devastating and unimaginable. It’s the image of the tornado, so innocent in itself, flattening a community, bringing with it so much sorrow. The tornado has a magical, mythical quality, reminding me of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
Let’s face it. For struggling authors, marketing and selling a published novel is at best a necessary evil—about as much fun as reading the Congressional Record (which, thankfully, I no longer have to do for work). We all tackle the marketing chores in whatever way we can because we know we have to, all the while hoping we’re not badgering and offending those on the receiving end of our too-frequent pitches.
But there’s one part of the process that is wonderful: Being a guest at a book club. What could be better than sitting around with a dozen people who have read your book and found enough in it to spark a substantive discussion? I was lucky enough to do several of these after my first book came out, and this week I got to do one on my recently published second novel, Hawke’s Return.
This has to stop.