Monthly Archives: June 2014

Friday Links for Writers: 06.20.14

Thanks to the tropical showers that trapped me in a coffee shop long enough to make headway. c Elissa Field

Thanks to the tropical showers that trapped me in a coffee shop long enough to make headway. c Elissa Field

Getting into the thick of novel revisions this week has felt like parenting a belligerent preteen – not that I have one of those (apologies, boys).

Landlocked friends, this is for you: beach writing isn't always pretty. c Elissa Field

Landlocked friends, this is for you: beach writing isn’t always pretty. c Elissa Field

On the way back from a meeting midday yesterday, I forced myself to stop and write at a coffee shop for a solid hour. I’ve put so much pressure on myself to complete this novel revision and be ready to query agents by summer’s end (I’ve been sharing this goal and inspiration using #SumNovRev on Twitter – jump in, if you share that goal!).

Luck of nature: I was trapped at the coffee shop by a tropical downpour. It took headphones, a great play list and a good hour or more to get to a point where I wasn’t fighting this manuscript.

As I hit a groove (sympatico: just as Cristina Aguilera belted into “Fighter“), I tweeted: “Not in love with your WIP? Skip to a part you love. Work from there, build on strength.” So much gets deleted anyway, so why sweat the scene I hate? Still lots to go, but I’m probably about 20% through that project of retyping the draft, using the only the parts I really like.

That said, it’s time for me to share some of the Friday Links for Writers that were my favorite inspiration this week. As always, feel free to share your own favorite links (including your own) in the comments.

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Interview with Kate Kristensen

One of the interesting things revealed in Amanda Green’s Rumpus interview with Kate Kristensen — who has written several novels and nonfiction books, as well as freelance and magazine writing — is the ways she used blog writing to interact with, develop and be relief from other forms of writing.

The Writing Workshop Glossary

In this great New York Times piece, Amy Klein shares a great cross-section of writing advice under the guise of “defining” the feedback used in writing workshops. It’s great as a morning read to inspire revisions, with classic questions such as, “What does the character want?” This article is part of an ongoing series called “Draft,” on the writing craft.

We’re Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome

With all the talk about diversity in the publishing industry, I thought this piece by Tasha Robinson at The Dissolve was one of the more interesting discussions. Tasha casts doubt on stories that simply add a female lead, even if it’s a strong, well-developed character, where the power in the story still remains in the hands of the male lead.

How to Get Published: 4 Debut Novelists on Elevator Pitches and More

I loved this Buzzfeed interview by Lincoln Michel with four debut novelists, for its down to earth insight into those publishing hurdles like phrasing the pitch.

How to Become a Literary Agent

This may be particular to my own interests in agenting, but I loved this piece by agent Juliet Mushens on Marie Claire’s blog, with her list of what it takes to be successful as a literary agent.

A Literary Expert on Driving in the Dark

Despite the ubiquity of Neil Gaiman advice articles, I loved this interview in the New York Times for some of his confessions of inspiration and his confidence about writing ahead, like “driving in the dark.”

 The Bridge and the Tunnel

This article by Donald Maass at Writers Unboxed is a repeat (included in Friday Links for Writers 07.05.13) but it’s one of my favorites — and kindred spirit with the part of the novel draft I fell back in love with at the coffee shop yesterday… So, enjoy. If you want more, this post shares some of Maass’s great novel writing prompts.

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Writing Communities

I can’t go without mentioning the explosive activity in my writing communities this week. You may have seen this show up as odd hashtags about #binderwomen or #binderwriters, and a couple others intended to go below radar. This isn’t the post to explain this completely, but I do want to take a second to give a shout out to the hundreds of women in my writing community who share such talent and energy. It’s great to connect with you (say “hello” in the comments!).

Elissa WAGI’ll also be explaining later the addition of the WAG Advisory Group badge that’s been added to the sidebar on this site, but for now, you will recognize Wordsmith Studios as the fabulous, supportive and talented group of writers I’ve been part of for two years now. Shout out to my Wordsmith friends. Find us in Tuesday chats using #wschat.

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What About You?

What writing goals are you working on this week? What resources or writing communities inspire you most? Please share any great links — including your own — in the comments.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field

Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field

 

 

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My Summer Reading List 2014

Summer reading, ready to go. c. Elissa Field

Summer reading, ready to go. c. Elissa Field

What is the first thing I did with my days off, when spring semester ended? READ. Read read read. I can’t say why, but more than any other year, it felt so good to spend full days reading as summer started this year. 

The first few books I read were ones from my Winter 2014 Reading List, including Amy Greene’s Long Man and Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena(I reviewed Constellation here).

Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

I highly recommend both of them and am excited for the successes both books have seen.

But now it’s time to get excited about the latest must-reads — it’s time for My Summer Reading List 2014! Please do share your own reading recommendations or must-reads in the comments. We all love to learn about great new titles.

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Fiction

  • Michael Cunningham, The Snow Queen (2014). This made my radar after watching Cunningham give a reading (online) at Bart College. I first fell in love with his writing when I stumbled on a short story in the defunct DoubleTake Magazine — before The Hours — which had me guessing he’d become a notable writer. Snow Queen releases this summer.
  • Aminatta Forna, The Hired Man (2013). I’ve heard this described as a “taut and suspenseful” tale of the relationship between villagers of a small Croat town and outsiders, after Croatia’s War of Independence. The title has appeared on several recommended reading lists. I’m intrigued.
  • Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (May 2014). This novel set in World War II has been surfacing in every reading forum, with rave reviews. I’ve read short stories by Doerr before that were full of beauty and nuanced insight.
  • Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed (2013). This is the novel I just started reading. Hosseini’s prior novels – The Kite Runner (2004) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2008) — were stunning. Read this New York Times review. 
  • Erin Morgenstern, Night Circus (2011). This one made my reading radar before, but finally made it into the stack that came home with me from a recent book-buying trip. This novel had a lot of buzz among my lit friends on Twitter last summer ago. I actually finished reading it just prior to posting this and can tell you that Erin has created a magically unique world, justifying the buzz.
  • Joshua Ferris, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (2014). This was added to my reading list on sheer faith of this tweet from Anthony Marra, whose Constellation has gotten so much praise from me lately:

 

 

Carryovers from Winter

Middle Grade or Young Adult Fiction

You may know that, from my own interests, from reading along with my sons and from teaching middle grade lit, I am an avid reader of middle grade and young adult fiction. These make my summer list:

  • Gae Polisner, The Summer of Letting Go (March 2014). I’m excited to read this new release by a writer I came to know as one of the hosts of the annual TeachersWrite forum. Early reviews have been great! I’ve come to know her as frank, intelligent, and witty, and am interested to see how her voice plays out in the novel.
  • E. Lockhart, We Were Liars (May 2014). Here’s another new release showing up on nearly every recommended reading list. The cover alone has that summer-mystique from childhood to pull me in.
  • John Greene, An Abundance of Katherines (2008). One of my Best Reads of 2014 never made it onto one of my readings lists, and that is The Fault in Our Stars. Forget that it’s a movie this summer; you have to read the book. It will be a classic (and yes, you’ll cry through much of it). Credit to John Greene for being example of why adults read young adult fiction: Fault is one smart and passionate novel. So read that, if you haven’t. I, in the meantime, will be reading Katherines (recommended by a friend) or one of Greene’s others: Paper Towns or Looking for Alaska).
  • Carl Hiaasen’s Scat, and Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. I’ll be buddy reading these along with my son, a rising 5th grader — they are part of his summer reading. If you have a child 4th-6th grade, these are great reads.

Nonfiction

  • Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012). Boo’s reporting of the “bewildering age of global change and inequality” through the inner stories of families in Mumbai was winner of the National Book Award, the PEN/John Galbraith Award, Los Angeles Times Book Prize… should I go on?
  • Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure (January 2014). While it’s possible I’ll end up buying something else by Shteyngart (novels: Super Sad True Love Story or Russian Debutante’s Handbook) when I’m actually in the store, this memoir has been on my target list for some time.
  • Elizabeth Berg, Escaping Into the Open (2012). This book made my reading list, sight unseen, as it is the book being shared by my Wordsmith Studios friends as a summer reading group. Smile at the thought of this great group.
  • Colm Toibin, Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border (2001). I look forward to reading this account from one of my favorite Irish authors about the time and place where much of my current novel-in-progress is set. (More about my novel’s Irish connection here.)

 Want more reading recommendations?

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What Are You Reading?

I’d love to hear your own reading suggestions in the comments.  Let us know the favorite books you’ve read this year or ones on your must-reads list.  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share link to your post so we can come read with you.

Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click book titles for their link on Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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Is Novel Revision your summer goal?

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Friday Links for Writers 06.13.14

Benefit of learning to write on the go: my "office" view for the afternoon.

Benefit of learning to write on the go: my “office” view for the afternoon. c. Elissa Field

If you’ve caught the pictures I’ve shared on Twitter or even the headers to my last two posts, you’ll get that we are in full-on summer status, here. Pool, beach, morning mimosas… Sweet!

Yeah, not so easy: for me, summer is all about long days of writing and revision, so those same pictures are attached to posts about the tough job of finishing this novel. I may be lounging, but the laptop and print novel draft are open in my lap. If you’re in that same status, I’ve been using the hashtag #SumNovRev to connect with others working on finalizing a novel over the next couple months — sharing goals, milestones and resources to keep us going.

Which brings us to today’s Friday Links for Writers, which shares some of the best recent-reads on mastering novel revision, from sentence-level to the first chapter to knowing when you’re done. As always, feel free to share in the comments about what resounds with you, what you’d like to read more of, or share your own best links of the week.

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Nail Your Novel’s First Chapter

Sometimes I feel like all the writing advice out there focuses on the first chapter — but of course this makes sense, since so much is riding on whether or not those first pages hook a reader, agent or editor. Which is exactly the point made in this short post by novel editor Ellen Brock.

Point of View Shifts and Head-hopping: Always Bad?

On Saturday, in my review of Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, I admired Anthony’s control in navigating pov shifts. Here, this post from Roz Morris is a great examination of the how’s and why’s of what makes head-hopping risky.

The Sentence is a Lonely Place

Shared on the Believer website, this is a transcript of a lecture by Gary Lutz to writing students at Columbia University.  I first discovered this piece a year or so ago, as a link at the end of author Matt Bell’s “The Books We Teach” (behind the subscriber wall at Ploughshares).

11 Questions to Ask Yourself When You Reach the End

This article by Kathy Crowley at Beyond the Margins is a great list of questions to consider when you reach the end of a draft stage. As Kathy puts it, review this list without too much intensity, just making notes, before setting the work aside to hibernate. It includes great challenges regarding everything from character to setting to plot. A useful tool.

Book Launch Checklist

For those with a book done, in the querying process or even waiting for an impending release, this post at Kelsye Nelson’s site is the most comprehensive check list I’ve seen for launching a book — and was one of the most retweeted links I shared on Twitter this week.

Novelists Discuss the Magic in the Creative Process

I like to end Friday Links with inspirational interviews or lectures, and I really liked this one: from Aspen Institute’s Winter Words 2014, Authors Karen Jay Fowler and Carole DeSanti discuss the creative process.

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How About You?

Feel free to share your favorite links (even your own) in the comments below.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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(c. Elissa Field, no repro w-out written permission)

 

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Finishing the Novel: Daily Task of “Getting it Done”

Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field

Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field

 

Ah, blissful! After a demanding spring of teaching, summer has arrived — and with it, long days of novel revision. As often as I post about Novel Revision Strategies, one of the biggest strategies is how to manage time to get the most out of time to write.

Today, this had me reflecting on the strategies that help writers work long days on novel writing or revision to successfully reach writing milestones but not burn out or kill energy for the work.

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1)  Purge all those distractions.

If I were only going to write for 30 minutes before going to a day job, this step would be considered a distraction. But, on days when you plan to write or revise all day, there’s only so far you can ignore other tasks (trust me, I’ve pushed it). Here’s a quick cycle I let myself run through to remove distractions before writing:

  • Get refreshed. For me, it’s coffee. For some writers this might be push-ups, a quick run or walking the dog.
  • Keep it clean. Allow a quick 5-15 minutes to make a pass at household tasks. Picking up after the boys, dishes, laundry — whatever handful of things keeps the house going. Generally, this fits in while coffee is brewing. Sometimes I use “count to 10” for this: pick a random number like 10, 20 or 25 — and quickly knock out that many of something. As a parent, this step usually involves cleaning; another writer might need this time to schedule an oil change or other kind of maintenance. Or be so lucky as to be able to skip this one altogether. Jealous.
  • Follow up for 10. We all hear warnings to stay away from email, social media and other distractions. But look, we take time to build important connections – so while I agree it’s important to write first, I give myself 10 minutes to tend the fires I stoked the day before. I don’t tend client projects here; those I schedule other times in the day.
  • Know your plan. Whether you have a written to-do list or a general idea in your head, have a sense of your writing goals for the day, with all materials on hand.

Everyone good? Kids busy with an activity? Somebody fed the cat? Nothing is on fire? Then hunker down.

2)  Write. One hour (or two). Uninterrupted.

For the work I’m doing today, 1 hour works. You might rather 2 hours. Whatever your number, it’s pure writing time.

Somewhere in the fidgeting above, I will already have in my head what the morning’s work should be. This week, the goal is to get as far through a complete read through (and revision) as possible. I’m working from a printed draft, so I will have shot that print job to the printer in 100-page chunks while checking email or some other menial task prior to writing. Yeah: no “I couldn’t write because I spent my hour fixing a printer jam or replacing print cartridges.”

No chat. No email. No phone or text or social media. No pausing for drinks or bathroom. If you’re a clock-watcher, use the timer on your cell phone to remove that distraction. Fall purely into writing for one straight hour.

Ding.

3)  Time for a break.

When I’m draft-writing, I write for hours on end, as long as the ideas are flowing. For revision: blocks of time. In the breaks in between, I might be revisiting some of those same tasks from morning’s distraction purge. Check the kids. Switch the laundry. Walk the dog. Get a snack. Another coffee. A phone call. Short tasks from other areas of my to-do list.

Again, I’m not a proponent of staying away from social media, so I would check Twitter, Facebook or my blog. I might share an accomplishment from the morning — connecting with other writers working on their goals at the same time is a great way to keep yourself going.

But I aim for a break to be 30 minutes, not longer. Sometimes it’s just a stretch, refill coffee and…

4)  Back to it.

Lots of successful writers will say their complete writing goal for a day might be 2 hours’ work. For me, during summers away from teaching, my aim is 4 hours on a short day, but as long as 8-10 hours for a full day of writing or revision. I get there by repeating these 2 hour blocks of work.

Do I have to stick with the clock? Not precisely.

Using time blocks helps structure the day and keep you honest – both in your discipline and the need to stop for breaks. But the day’s goals may dictate more organic work-blocks: retyping chapters one and two might fit neatly into one hour, or might prompt a sidetrack into research over the actual date the TSA was started. Maybe that block will be 1.5 hours, and maybe another block will be just 30 minutes, since it involves an intensive re-evaluation of my character’s inner motivation that requires a breather for reflection afterward.

I don’t stop to a factory bell if I am in the middle of something. Likewise, sometimes a task goes more quickly — or is more draining, so you need a break sooner than expected.

Having minimum or maximum time blocks can help you stay on track. If I planned to write an hour, I’ll push myself to keep going if it’s been less than 45 minutes. If I planned an hour but keep going off on tangents, I might control this by stopping if it goes past 2 hours.

Are you working at home with family? Honoring time blocks also helps to manage that temptation to get lost in writing and forget a promise you made to take kids to the pool or go out to dinner with your partner.

5)  Break up the work

To achieve 8 and even 10 hour days, I’ll keep repeating breaks and time blocks to stay refreshed but productive throughout the day.

Time blocks also help to create natural shifts in the work.

For me, this might mean 4 hours on the novel, then 2 writing for my blog or clients, or to work on submissions. Or I might break it into hours for revision, versus hours for research or drafting new material. Shifts in work help keep you from burning out.  I use a color-coded Outlook calendar to keep a visual of the time needed and available for each, throughout the week.

Benefit of learning to write on the go: my "office" view for the afternoon.

Benefit of learning to write on the go: my “office” view for the afternoon.

You can also shift location. This morning I have certain work (like this post) that has to be done on household wifi. But I’ve packaged afternoon revisions so I can take them with me to the beach, which allows me to honor time with my boys. Flexibility in where you work is a great strategy for buying time to write.

6)  Celebrate an accomplishment.

Keep yourself going by celebrating a milestone. Intrinsic rewards can be something as simple as flipping through all the editing marks you’ve made on a printed manuscript or reviewing your word count for the day. One friend kept tally of her word count on her mousepad at the end of every day.

Make it social by sharing this. Lots of us keep each other going by posting our day’s milestones to Twitter or a goals group with writing friends online. Some share their word counts on NaNoWriMo software during challenges throughout the year. Tell your partner or your kids. Build in a fun reward, like a festive drink or night out with friends.

Or… yes, there are days when the “celebrate” step is replaced with “chastise.” Do reassess goals for the following day if a milestone wasn’t reached or new issues came up.

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What About You?

What time strategies do you use to reach your writing goals? Am I alone in trying to work 8-hour writing/editing days (I doubt that)? How do you keep yourself both refreshed and moving toward your goals?  Or, post a question if you think readers here could help you solve your writing-schedule challenges.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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(c. Elissa Field, no repro w-out written permission)

(c. Elissa Field, no repro w-out written permission)

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Reading: Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

I’ve been very picky in reading this past spring — literally put down 7 out of 12 books, without finishing. But today I’m motivated to post the first book review I’ve shared on this site, because so bowled over by Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth, Jan. 2013).

And the Winner Is…

I first picked this novel up when it began appearing on lists nominating it for various national and international book awards last year. Constellation won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle’s inaugural John Leonard Prize, the inaugural 2014 Carla Furstenberg Cohen Fiction Award and the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in fiction.  It was also nominated for the National Book Award in Fiction, and appeared on numerous best-reads lists, including the Goodreads Choice list.

anthony marraI was particularly intrigued because I “knew” Anthony from when he participated in a writer’s forum back when he was applying for a Stanford Stegner fellowship, years back. Constellation is Marra’s first novel. I shared this interest here before, when I included link to an interview with Marra by the New School in Friday Links for Writers: 02.21.14.

From this, what I knew of the book in advance was that it was intelligent and stark, with some risks taken in multiple narrative threads.

Stunning and Beautiful

What I found was an intelligent, sometimes poetic, emotionally powerful insight into individual lives of civilians during the wars in Chechnya. The simplest compliment I could give the novel was the point, midway through, when I found myself comparing the narrative impact of the writing to Tolstoy.

Marra’s writing is beautiful, brave, clean and with an unhurried confidence that left a nuanced and authentic portrayal of characters who were altogether new. As the novel opens, a young Chechen girl, Havaa, is watching her house burn, knowing her father has been disappeared. She is quickly spirited away by Akhmed, a close friend of her father’s, who takes on a job (as the worst physician in Chechnya) in Hospital No. 6 in order to convince the head doctor to hide the girl. As three more key characters are introduced, Marra weaves together histories and desires that reveal the personal losses and motivations that populate the lives of civilians in wartime.

Fascinated by Marra’s Narrative Structure

There is an idiosynchratic spirit to Constellations.  I’d heard it described as multiple stories woven together, but what he accomplishes is much more organic and unified than that.

Divisions of the novel are based on time. There are 28 chapters to the novel, grouped into parts that measure the five days after Dokka is disappeared. At the top of each chapter is a timeline band, highlighting the relevant years for that chapter. While the storyline progresses through the events after Dokka is taken, each chapter moves organically through the minds of the main characters and how the past 20 years of memories led each of the characters to the events of these 5 days. The complexity of the structure is pulled off beautifully.

Some risks are taken in the ways that Marra plays with voice, as the narrative fluctuates in varying degrees of 3rd person. The most basic structure is that each chapter begins with close 3rd on one of 5 main characters; line spacing mid-chapter usually then signals a shift to close 3rd from another main character’s pov. Frequently, however — particularly in traumatic encounters with other players in the war, such as arrival in the ER of a man whose leg was blasted apart by a landmine — narrative voice shifts to omniscience for 1-3 lines, revealing inner secrets, thoughts or future outcomes of this side character before returning to the main character’s pov.  The effect of this intrigues me, as it breaks a linear plane to create a wavery effect that is less godly than a shared-awareness that seems fitting in an environment where all predictable rules have dissolved.  What is impressive is Marra’s control, as pov shifts are accomplished without apology or need for awkward segues.  By visiting Havaa’s pov in the opening line, then Akhmed’s within the next line, Marra has effectively signaled that views will shift.

Lasting Impact

The concept of the novel is powerful. I was continually impressed at Marra’s ability to deliver with nuanced subtlety how each individual progresses through the insane or horrifying events of war (or warlike conditions and even torture in supposed peacetime). He manages to present the factual history in a manner that is seamless with the characters’ individual voices and storylines.

What is most powerful are the characters. While it is a novel revealing truisms of war, it is ultimately a novel about love and compassion and the warmly developed lives of characters in this small village. Each character is vivid, intriguing and their stories compelling.

Congrats to Anthony Marra for making my Top Reads of 2014.

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What Are You Reading?

I’m getting ready to post my Summer Reading List for 2014, which has me curious what everyone else is reading.  I’d love to hear your own reading suggestions in the comments.  Let us know the favorite books you’ve read this year or ones on your must-reads list.  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share link to your post so we can come read with you.

Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click the book link to Marra’s book in the opening paragraph, which takes you to Amazon.  Or, you can find it at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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