Category Archives: books

How Many Books Can You Fit In One Garage?

If you’ve followed my blog you’ll know our basement flooded six months ago. One month ago our kind and generous sons started moving our furniture back down to the newly refloored and redecorated rooms. Two weeks ago I started moving boxes of books. There were… er… rather a lot of boxes of books…

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Soon there were… er… rather a lot of books all over my floor…

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But look at it now!

20170810_183141My reading room/library is full to the brim with new friends and old, all waiting to be read and re-read. And my world is back to an even-better kind of normal.

But how many books are there? How many could you fit in your garage? And have you added Subtraction to your book collection yet?

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What is Subtraction?

Subtraction, third in the Mathemafiction series, is here, there, and everywhere good books are sold, or at least it soon will be, because all booksellers will surely want to know what happens to a subtracted life. Subtraction is here anyway–just click on the link.

But what is Mathemafiction? I’m a mathematician, so mathematical ideas come naturally to me. But not, mathemafiction is not about learning to do math.

51xcie2u2blThe first novel, Divide by Zero, told the story of a strong community divided by tragedy. Why Divide by Zero? Because division by zero results in an undefined answer–it all depends on the initial conditions and the details of the equation. Divide x by x and you’ll always get 1. Divide 2x by x and you’ll get 2. Divide x squared by x and you’ll get x, which is 0 when x is 0. But divide 1 by x and you’ll get something that grows infinitely large as x grows small. When the subdivision of Paradise is divided by a violent crime… will it explode or unite around a finite solution?

512bbjmvzuflThe second Mathemafiction novel is Infinite Sum. It tells the story of a mother weighed down by the “infinite sum” of her troubles. She has a troubled past. She paints troubled pictures. And her perfect family and marriage might fall apart. The thing is, some infinite sums add up to nicely finite solutions. Try adding 1 plus 1/2 plus 1/4 plus 1/8 plus 1/16…. The more terms you add, the nearer you get to 2, which isn’t infinite at all. Will a mother’s sum of troubles sum to something manageably finite as well?

51ryws67wolThen there’s Subtraction: A man whose had everything subtracted from his life… a man alone, who’d rather keep it that way since relationships only end in someone being hurt… a man who trusts no one, teaches math, and despite everything cares deeply for his students… What happens when this last thing that matters is threatened, when an autistic child is subtracted from his class? But subtracting a negative number is the same as adding a positive, and this teacher’s negative attitude just might change over the course of the novel.

Will you read Subtraction?

Can you help me to advertise it?

Please search for my tweets on twitter under #Subtraction and retweet them, or cut and paste them from below. And please accept my thanks! I hope you like the book!

 

What happens when a girl with no future starts to grow up? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

What happens when the man who’s lost everything starts over &starts losing again? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

What happens when the art teacher’s not quite as young as she looks? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

What happens when a nobody tries  being somebody & disappears from school? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Is there still hope when the world falls apart, falls apart, falls apart…? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Is there still hope when the autistic child disappears? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Is there still hope when everyone looks the wrong way? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Is there still hope when everyone looks the wrong way? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

When family deserts you and children disappear, is there still hope? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

When only the least expected take your side, is there still hope? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Life is serious. Why is he talking to cats? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Life is serious. Why is she following the cats? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Will the missing child be found in time? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Does the past have to repeat itself? #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Is every stranger dangerous?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Does “stranger danger” apply to cats?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

What if the cat might be haunted?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

What if the cat is a guardian angel?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Do guardian angel cats have wings?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Would you follow a guardian angel cat?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Would you follow a man who follows guardian angel cat?  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Subtract the past. Trust the present. Find the future.  #mustread #amreading #Subtraction https://www.amazon.com/Subtraction-Sheila-Deeth/dp/1630663913/

Evolution of a back cover blurb

The novel’s called Subtraction. It’s going to be released on August 1st. And it needed a back cover blurb. (Watch this space for the real cover, coming soon!)

subtraction copy

I spent a day with many Facebook friends working on this, and I am hugely grateful to them. I’m grateful for links to great “how to write a blurb” sites – especially https://kindlepreneur.com/back-book-cover-blurb/. I’m grateful for advice, for revised sentences, new ways of looking at the storyline and words, and … everything. And here’s how it worked out.

Version 1: On a road trip to look for a missing girl, a schoolteacher finds himself. Love, cats and colleagues remind him the world’s not all evil, but can he truly forgive the darkness it hides? Is trust just weakness in disguise, or is it a gift, a freedom and a hope that things subtracted might yet be restored?

Comments –

  • doesn’t really tell the reader anything: road trip, yes, but what happens on the trip
  • on the other hand, does kind of give away the ending.

Version 2: Can subtraction be a positive? Can loss be a gain? And can a lonely schoolteacher find himself (love and cats) on a cross-country road trip in search of a missing child? Subtraction is a story of love, loss and hope as strangers prove to be sometimes kind, dark places hide light, and middle-grade schoolchildren learn about math, acceptance, and generosity.

Comments –

  • Too existential
  • why is he looking for her?
  • Starting with the inciting incident will focus readers on what’s going to happen

Version 3: When a misfit student disappears from math class, her teacher embarks on an epic cross-country journey to find her. But who is he really looking for? Why is the pretty new art teacher so keen to help? And where do all the cats come from?

Comments –

  • too short
  • needs names
  • tell enough of the story – to the middle say – to hook your reader.

Version 4: When autistic Amy goes missing from her special ed math class, teacher Andrew Callaghan is desperate to save her… or save himself. Stella DeMaris, the new art instructor, offers to help. Soon the two erstwhile strangers set off on a road trip across America, held back by memories of Andrew’s past and spurred on by mysterious cats. Andrew imagines Amy’s dead body in every passing shadow, but Stella’s determined to prove there’s hope for everyone, including two misfit teachers and misfit kids.

Comments –

  • Don’t use easy labels – don’t say she’s autistic
  • Try “and save himself” instead of “or save himself,” or it might sound creepy
  • Why does he think she needs saving
  • Readers forget about Amy by the time they get to the cats.
  • Remember, the person reading the blurb doesn’t know the story.
  • Think about 3 sentences
    • Goal
    • Disaster that keeps him from his goal, and potential consequences for him
    • Sum up the journey and what he’ll have to overcome.

Version 5: Andrew Callaghan suspects that his student Amy, who has gone missing, has been murdered. With the help of Stella DeMaris, the school’s new art instructor, he sets off on a road trip to find what happened to her. Tortured by memories of his own dead daughter, Andrew sees Amy’s body in every passing shadow, while Stella sees cats, and the path grows harder to find.

Comments –

  • The end is just as important as the beginning, so find a better ending.

Version 6: Andrew Callaghan suspects his student Amy, who has gone missing, may have been murdered. With the help of Stella DeMaris, the school’s new art instructor, he sets off on a road trip to find what happened to her. Tortured by memories of his own dead daughter, Andrew sees Amy’s body in every passing shadow, while Stella sees cats. But Amy is speeding ahead of them. She’s not the sort to understand “stranger danger.” Can they find her in time?

Comments –

  • Amy’s danger belongs at the start, not the end
  • How do they know she’s ahead of them?

Version 7: Andrew Callaghan suspects his student Amy, who has gone missing, may have been murdered. With the help of Stella DeMaris, the school’s new art instructor, he sets off on a road trip to find what happened to her. Tortured by memories of his own dead daughter, Andrew sees Amy’s body in every passing shadow, while Stella, ever hopeful, sees cats. But where will the cats lead them, and will Amy be dead or alive at the end of the trail?

Comments – it’s the winner! (Well, I always like 7s.) So what have I learned:

  • Ask myself what genre my book is, even if the answer is multiply-defined.
  • Pick out the most important thread in the story and include it in the first sentence of the blurb.
  • Leave out any unnecessary information
  • Provide enough motivation for the main character’s actions.
  • Make sure the ending makes readers want to know more.

Coming soon – August 1st, Subtraction by Sheila Deeth

and here are the blurbs for Divide by Zero and Infinite Sum, the books that came before it. (Each one is standalone – related, but not contiguous.)

Divide by Zero: It takes a subdivision to raise a child, and a wealth of threads to weave a tapestry, until one breaks. Troy, the garage mechanic’s son, loves Lydia, the rich man’s daughter. Amethyst has a remarkable cat and Andrea a curious accent. Old Abigail knows more than anyone else but doesn’t speak. And in Paradise Park a middle-aged man keeps watch while autistic Amelia keeps getting lost. Pastor Bill, at the church of Paradise, tries to mend people, Peter mends cars. But when that fraying thread gives way it might takes a child to raise the subdivision-or to mend it.

Infinite Sum: A slash of red; a slash of black; then Sylvia’s paintbrush turns beauty turns into terror and darkness again. Her youngest child is almost ten, but Sylvia’s world seems destined to fall apart. Her therapist believes the answers lie in her art, but will they be found among boxes and frames in the attic, or in the angry colors she pours onto canvases in class? As memories new and old pile ever higher, Sylvia learns life is more about the infinite promise of joys to come than the sum of things done. Even so, will her nightmares let her go?

And for a writing prompt –

  • write a blurb for the book you’re writing, want to write, or wish you’d written
  • Does the first sentence describe the most important storyline?
  • Is there enough information to motivate the characters?
  • Is the information clear enough to avoid its being misunderstood?
  • Does the last sentence give too much away, or entice the reader to want more?
  • Then rewrite your blurb.

How Soon Is Soon?

I was going to write a blogpost soon, but that was hours ago. I was going to advertize my new novellas soon, but that was days ago. My husband was going to choose paint colors soon, but that was months ago. And my next novel, Subtraction, was going to come out soon, but how soon is soon?

subtraction copy

Then yesterday I got good news. Subtraction has a tentative release date of August 1st. Hurray! So now I shall have to advertize soon, beg for reviews, try to get the book into stores… and dream. And definitely dream. Because Subtraction completes a trilogy begun with Divide by Zero and continued in Infinite Sum. Sure, I’m working on Imaginary Numbers now, but that will follows lives on different paths. Subtraction completes the arc of lives wounded by Amelia’s death. Subtraction follows the absent father, and places him very present on center stage. And I can’t wait to see how it will be received.

As to those novellas, perhaps they’ll be fodder for another blogpost, coming “soon.” But for now, here’s a taste of Subtraction, following the writing prompt.

Writing Prompt:

Our writer’s group’s experimenting with different points of view – it’s amazing how they can feel like different authors when you let them on the page. So…

  1. Imagine a teacher walking into a classroom. The students stare.
  2. Start the story in first person from the teacher’s point of view. “New class. New students. What do I do? Will they listen?” and write for just 5 minutes.
  3. Continue in 3rd person omniscient – what does the teacher look like? What about the students. What are they thinking? What does the teacher think? How does the lesson begin? 5 minutes again.
  4. Then finish with nothing but dialog between teacher and students, and see where it takes you.

When you’ve finished, meet Andrew from Subtraction, as he meets his new class:

Part 1

1

“Now children, today I will teach you to subtract.” Andrew marched to the front of the classroom, ready to start his second year with these kids. He frowned as he pondered whether addressing a middle-grade, special-needs audience as children might be insulting, but his mind seemed devoid of alternative words as it sank into more familiar mathematical terms. “Subtract,” he repeated.  To take away, abuse, discard, destroy…

Youthful faces, ranging from blandly accusing to sleepily bland, stared back at him, and clearly couldn’t care less if he frowned or cried. Faint groans arose, inspiring that familiar tightness in his chest. But these students, subtracted from their regular classes, weren’t rejects; not really; not yet; Andrew wasn’t going to fail them if he could help it.

“Sub-traction.” He spoke the syllables carefully and wrote the word with a purple flourish on the whiteboard. The pen squeaked louder than the nervous quiver of his throat while he half-turned to check the children were seated, and to see who was laughing.

A class clown bounced on his chair in the middle of the room.  “Is that like action that’s not acting right?” Beetled eyebrows wiggled, mimicking the bouncing of the tall boy’s limbs.

“Nah,” groaned the one known as Jonah the Whale, squashed like a deflated football in his seat near the door. The force of Jonah’s voice blew strands of sandy hair up like a helmet, and he clawed his armpits with stubby fists. “ Sub-track; it’s like acting subhuman, like what you do.” He pointed to the clown.

Andrew rapped a ruler on the desk. “No teasing in class,” he insisted. Then he repeated, slowly, solemnly—fiercely driving down the whimper of his new-year apprehension— “We’re studying subtraction.”

For a moment, the deep, cultured tone of his own voice distracted him. Who am I? he wondered, and who am I to teach them? But he couldn’t pause to evaluate the answer. “Subtraction is sometimes called taking away.” And what has been taken from me?

Andrew’s eyes wandered, taking in shapes, positions, posture, provocation and more. Meanwhile he pondered what these middle-school rejects might make of the phrase, taken away, they who’d never been given enough in the first place? Inhaling an unhealthy burst of dry-erase solvent, he dragged himself back to the present and began a slow walk around the room.

Fair-haired Amy sat near clownish Zeke. She wrapped thin, freckled arms around the treasures on her desk. Her lips were parted as she muttered under her breath, “Not take away. Not take away.” The delicate voice reminded Andrew of the tick from an antique clock, from an antique home, from a life long lost. He leaned forward to offer comfort to the child. Doll-eyes blinked, but she wasn’t looking at him. Her gaze was fixed on some curious infinity. Her face, pink-cheeked and porcelain smooth, bore only the tiniest hint of unlikely concern, as if she were looking through a window at someone else’s lesson.

“Ah, Amy.” Andrew sighed. “Nobody’s going to take your treasures away.”

Three safety pins from a diaper set were arrayed in the middle of her desk. Buttons in multiple colors formed jagged hills beside them. A pencil with rainbow-colored point, and a pad of rainbow notelets were neatly positioned between musically drumming fingers.

“First we add things,” Andrew said, raising his voice as he marched toward the front of the room again. “Then we have a collection”—a collection of buttons perhaps, and did Amy know how many were lying there?—“and then we…”

“Takeaway! Like burgers!” brayed Julie’s rusty voice of triumph behind him.

Andrew turned. “Well, not quite, Julie,” he admitted, feeling the focus splinter.

“I want my takeaway. I want.” Loud thumps of threatening persistence on the desk accompanied Tom’s voice. Angry Tom, he was in his fourth special school for misbehavior and might soon be dropped out entirely unless teachers like Andrew could win him over. But chaos rumbled over other desks as well.

Andrew tensed, needing a clearer answer, before things fell apart. Then he felt a bubble of inspiration turn his frown to a smile. This was why he did this job. This was why he loved it.

“Yes. Yes. And yes,” Andrew announced, facing the class from behind his desk and pumping his arm with the words like a teenager. His tones turned increasingly valiant as his gaze slid across the sea of puzzled faces. “You’re right.” He pointed to Julie. “Tom’s right… And you… and you… Let’s order some takeaway, just as soon as we’ve got this done.” Then he started to count, pointing to the students each in turn. “Let’s order… seven, eight, nine burgers.”

“I want nuggets!”

“Nine orders of food.” Andrew corrected himself. “And I’ll be in charge of passing them around.”

He had their attention now, or food did anyway.

“I’ll set the box down on my desk, right here. And when I’ve handed one meal to Jonah… you tell me… how many more will be in the box?”

“Me first,” shouted Tom, ignoring the question. But others students waved fingers to count and tried to work it out.

Shy Amy’s head hung down as she continued to play with the buttons on her desk. Her fingers wove in hypnotically distracting patterns. Don’t look at her. Don’t watch. You’ll make her mad. But blue eyes focused suddenly on Andrew, cold as winter, distant as spring. Red-button lips pursed into words, spoked out in a quietly determined, uninflected voice. “Eight.”

“Very good, Amy. So then I give one meal to Amy.” Andrew waved a hand with the imaginary parcel. “Just wait a minute, Tom. And how many are left?”

Middle-grade mind needed a pause before answering, “Seven?”

“Then to Tom… “

“Hurray!”

“Six… five… four…”

The students completed the sequence at last, and Andrew announced in triumph, “That’s subtraction, class. When we take something out of the box, we’ve subtracted it.”

Faces shone back at him in that pause within the triangle of trouble, food and learning. Then Jonah the Whale bounced his chair, legs creaking scarily. “So, when can we eat?”

Whispers rustled, then Tom’s throaty voice rang out, combining threat and doubt. “Order it! I’m hungry.”

Andrew took out his phone. “What’s the number? Anyone know?”

Then food’s calm promise brought peace, giving Andrew a chance to spend more time in quiet discussion with Tom. He said all the right words, warning of all the right consequences, taking into account the rightness of Tom’s desire for burgers, and adding a reminder that the whole class needed to learn. Subtract a little bad behavior here and there, don’t shout too loud, look like you’re taking notice, and all will be well.

Meanwhile Shy Amy drew with her rainbow pencil, plus and minus signs entwined with whispering shades and colors on the rainbow page. Take away her autism, and who might Amy be then?

Take away Amelia’s autism…?

Voices from the past ushered a host of memories in Andrew’s mind. Amelia was the girl long gone, long lost under green of trees and waving branches in a place called Paradise—Amelia, her mother, Andrew’s parents, Carl… all subtracted like numbers from his page. He let his gaze drift to the window, hoping the sky’s bright tones would wash his palette clean again. But who-am-I doubts combined with the whispering of leaves and chatter of children. He couldn’t forget. That long slow walk between Tom’s desk and the classroom door could take a lifetime, waiting for delivery’s knock.

 

Maundy

A new command was given on Maundy Thursday – a mandate – mandatum – hence the name. And in honor of “loving one another,” priests wash parishioners’ feet, kings and queens give coins, and altars are stripped ready to remember that giving of it all.

The story below comes from my Bible gift book: Easter, Creation to Salvation in 100 words a day. And if you want to know what happens next (the end of the world perhaps), look for Revelation, from Easter to Pentecost in 100 words a day. Enjoy.

(And if you want a writing prompt, write about the wonder of the season – Easter, spring, whatever season this means to you.)

44. Maundy Thursday

bread and wine

The streets were quiet. Night had fallen, everyone sleeping or praying, except for them.

“Strange about the bread,” said James, still tasting forbidden matzos eaten after lamb.

“And the blessing”—“This is my body,” the master had said, reminding them of something they were too full, or too tired to remember.

They stopped at a garden, sat on rocks, lay on grass, their bodies weary with food. And they barely noticed when Jesus left to pray with Peter, James and John.

Matthew looked up. “Huh? Where’d they go?” then, “Wonder what happened to Judas.”

Voices whispered. Armor jangled. Footsteps approached.

Mark 14:22 “…Take, eat: this is my body.”

 After they’d eaten the Passover meal, Jesus blessed and broke another matzo. He prayed over the third cup of wine—cup of redemption, blood of the lamb—and the feast drew to its end.

Maundy Thursday evening begins a three-day celebration of Easter: Maundy pennies to the poor; priests washing the people’s feet. But it’s communion that matters most—bread and wine shared in remembrance of Him. We file out from church, leaving the light shining in a tiny garden—shrubs and flowers, a place of Easter prayer.

And through the night, people visit, to watch and pray one hour.

45. Good Friday

crucifixion

It didn’t seem so long ago she carried her baby to the Temple, and an old man prophesied, “A sword will piece your heart.”

She hadn’t known what sort of sword. There were all the little swords of childhood, watching and caring for the boy, losing and finding him. There was the sword of his leaving home, and the day he addressed the crowds: “These are my mother and brothers,” as if she hadn’t left everything to follow him too.

This sword was a soldier’s spear, piercing her dead son’s heart.

A mother shouldn’t have to watch her baby die.

John 1:29 “…Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

 Good Friday’s service is the long one. We stand and kneel and sit on cue, and pray for all times and all peoples.

The priest holds up the crucifix—“Behold the wood of the cross.” And all other symbols stay hid under their purple cloths—statues in mourning. The congregation marches forwards to bestow our reverent kisses, quickly wiped.

It must look strange—we fools for Christ; irrational kisses in remembrance of God’s salvation. I touch my lips to plastic, and my heart touches mystery.

Returning home we celebrate with hot cross buns, sweetness and spice, pleasure and pain together.

46. Holy Saturday

death

“They tell me Judas has killed himself. I doubt I could even do that right.

“Remember me, Jesus? I’m the one that betrayed you; told them I never even knew you. I stood there, and I saw you look at me.

“Remember me? I’m the one that couldn’t walk on water after all; can’t even walk right on land. You said you’d build your church on me, called me a rock. Some rock. Some church.

“Remember me, Jesus? And you tell me to remember you.

“I remember seeing you dead and buried, so tell me, now what do I do?”

John 15:5 “I am the vine, ye are the branches…”

 We left the church in silence on Good Friday, the altar bare—no candles, no flowers, no music, joyful or sad. On Saturday evening, we’ll meet together in the parking lot, beside the Paschal fire, the air filled with excitement and smoke, shouting “Alleluia” instead of “Crucify.” On Holy Saturday evening we’ll all stand forgiven, and the grave lie empty.

New light, new life, new hope tonight. My brother, the priest, sings “Lumen Christi” and we answer “Deo Gratias”—light of Christ; thanks be to God. Beautiful music, beautiful prayers, and beautiful hope.

This night, our Savior is risen.

47. Easter Sunday

resurrection

“King of the Jews.”

“So they say.”

“D’you think he’ll stay dead?”

The older man laughed. He’d been a soldier long enough to know, the dead don’t walk. “We killed him son.” And if they could keep the body guarded, maybe peace would return to the violent province.

They sat around the fire, telling war stories to flames, cursing the land, scorning people who might be foolish enough to try to steal a corpse.

Then they saw what they could not see, and heard what they could not hear. In the morning, the grave stood empty; the dead had walked.

John 11:25 “…I am the resurrection, and the life…”

 Jesus walked the earth again for forty days. His disciples saw Him. Huge crowds ate and talked with Him. And those who chronicled events wrote their tales, while eye-witnesses still lived to disagree. Like newspaper reporters today, each stressed his own version. But together they tell one story, one the authorities couldn’t suppress, though it would have been so easy to disprove—if there’d only been a body.

After the forty days, Jesus disappeared. After fifty, at the Jewish Pentecost, the Holy Spirit turned frightened fishermen into Fishers of Men. And two thousand years later Christians still follow the carpenter.

New Year, New Edits, New Words?

I don’t make New Year resolutions on the grounds that I’ll always break them. But I do make plans, and this year I plan to work harder on writing and editing, read more productively, spend less time looking at or wishing I could create advertisements, and write fewer book reviews. 200+ reviews is just too many for one year, and too much time spent not writing.

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Peter’s Promise on Amazon

With all this in mind, and with my mum – my greatest fan and my best editor – still staying with us, I decided to start each day by editing a section from my upcoming children’s book, Paul’s Purpose. (It’s the sequel to Peter’s Promise, above.)

Of course, I know Paul had many purposes, and so do I: in writing children’s Bible stories I want to:

  • Show the stories of the Bible are set around real people in a real world,
  • Show that the world of history and saints wasn’t so different from the world of siblings and friends,
  • Encourage and entertain middle-grade readers – I want them to think, laugh, and turn pages; I want pre-school listeners to enjoy being read to as well;
  • Encourage and entertain middle-grade educators – I want them to be ready to give and find answers – to model looking for answers on Google, in the dictionary or in the Bible (or anywhere else);
  • Encourage and improve reading and language skills – I like to include some words my readers may not have used before, because the real world is filled with words we all might misunderstand, and
  • Encourage and improve critical thinking skills – I like my readers to ask questions, because without questions, the answers can’t make sense.

So …

After talking with Mum, I’d love to know your opinions.

  • Can I use such words as “erudite” “persistent” and “single-minded” in a children’s book?
  • Can I refer to “virility-fertility rites” (with no further explanation) when my characters complain about what goes on in pagan temples?
  • Is “God’s mark hurts” a sufficient explanation of why a boy might not want to be circumcised, or should I just avoid the whole question, though it seems like it was a pretty big question at the time?

Meanwhile, since I always turn these blogs into writing exercises, here a

Writing Prompt

  • Think of something in the natural world – a bird, a stone, a river…
  • Imagine how it came into being – evolution, hatching from an egg, rain-clouds with dried fish-eggs waiting to hatch…
  • Then tell its story, from its own point of view:
    • One paragraph (or sentence) for the beginning
    • one for the middle, or the present day
    • and one for the end, or end of the world, or “Help! It’s raining fish!”

It’s raining ice here. Keep warm.

 

Things I Learned At Wordstock

Last weekend I went to Wordstock in Portland – an annual literary arts event featuring great authors, books, publishers, speakers, library representatives and more – and rain – and rainbows! So what did I learn?

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  1. Rain is wet, but less wet and miserable when shared with congenial strangers.
  2. Lining up to enter a building is less painful if you know the venue will be emptied first, so you know you’ll manage to get in. (Last year you could line through two lectures before getting into the one you didn’t plan on but went to to get out of the rain.)
  3. Some venues in Portland are truly magnificent!
  4. Sherman Alexie is a fantastic speaker and great fun!
  5. Alice Hoffman is as interesting in person as in her fiction.
  6. Poetry might not be for me, but I did write a poem while listening to poets. Maybe that means modern poetry is not for me. Or maybe it means the poets I listened to were too much alike. (All three were women and I wish there’d been a man to offer a different voice.)
  7. But there was a man sitting next to me. Between us we learned that bus tickets can be purchased by swiping on the phone, absent anything logical like a “pay now” or “complete your purchase” button.
  8. Books are wonderful. Lots of books are lots of wonderful.
  9. Lots of literary magazines encourage submissions, but will any of them accept me?
  10. Lots of local publishers are interested in talking to our writing group, but will any of them really do it?

Watch this space for answers to the last two questions. And while you wait, here’s a poetry writing prompt.

  1. What did you do last weekend? Write one sentence.
  2. Add two more sentences below it. You should have three lines of prose on your page.
  3. Which words did you repeat? Break your lines at these words. (If there are no repeats, lengthen your sentences first.)
  4. Which words could be replaced with ones which rhyme with the repeated words? Replace them, and break your lines again.
  5. Read what you’ve written aloud.
  6. Read it again and count the stresses on each line.
  7. Can you add or remove words so all the lines have the same number of stresses? Or so that there’s a pattern of stresses from one line to the next? Or so that…?
  8. Basically so that you like what you’ve written.
  9. Then stop.

I went to Wordstock.
Listened to authors.
Bought books.

I went to the book fair at Wordstock
Listened to authors and readers of books
Collected lots of periodicals, handouts and books.

I went to the book fair,
to Wordstock and looked there
at books, stocked my brain up
on authors and bought there
too many books, wore out
my shoulders to ferry them
home but I’ll stock up
my bookshelves and brain cells
with dreams till they’re all
overgrown.

My Best-Selling Titles

Divide by Zero was a best-seller once. So were Genesis People and Bethlehem’s Baby. Tails of Mystery won an award from my publisher recently as another best-seller. Does that make me a best-selling author?

But my best-selling book at the moment is Heroes Best Friend, a very cool anthology in which I have one (best-selling?) short story, and from which I earn the occasional cent – it’s my best-paying book. Coming close second is the fourth volume of the Writers’ Mill Journal, from which I earn nothing – all online proceeds go directly to the library, since the journal is designed, written and produced by our local writers’ group. Then there’s my latest novel, Infinite Sum. I hope it sold some copies when it came out, but they don’t register on my Amazon author dashboard. And so I wonder, does this make me a worst-selling author instead?

Or perhaps I’m in-between. Thirty-nine books to my name. Sales that garner occasional payments in cents. And dreams that reach the sky. Plus coffee.

Meanwhile our writers’ group has just released volume five – find it soon in a bookstore online! We’re working on a Tails of Mystery fan-fiction collection as well (with permission from my publisher). We’ll probably call it Zeus and Bo and Fred and Joe and Co, since Fred and Joe were based on two beautiful dogs called  Zeus and Bo, and since the stories run the gamut of many animals.

If you’re looking for a writing prompt – and aren’t we always –

here is the menagerie now living with Fred and Joe. Look for a way to use all of these creatures, plus at least one more, in one story or poem:

  • Fred – a large dog
  • Joe – a small dog
  • Cat – a large cat
  • Kitkit – a small cat, kitten to Cat
  • Zombie – a canary
  • Squeak – a mouse
  • the child, still very small
  • the man, and
  • the woman

Now Write!

Then watch for A Nose For Adventure, coming soon. (But Zombie and Squeak won’t enter the series until later – I’m writing faster than I can best-sell!)

What Did You Read On Vacation?

I started reading The Girl on the Train, on a train. I read Signal Failure while riding the 20160801_110205 (2)Underground. I visited numerous London bookshops then settled down to enjoy Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. 20160804_173522The Eyre Affair accompanied peacefully timeless20160806_173543 (2) views of punts on the Cam. And I enjoyed happy days with my brother’s two dogs while reading The Dog Who Dared To Dream.20160724_154323 (2)In the days leading up to our wedding anniversary, I devoured The Daylight Marriage. Then we celebrated with a trip to the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the Guilgud Theatre. A great time was had by all, my read-and-review book-list languished, the internet faded into 2G wilderness, and my mum enjoyed being one of the first readers of my second novel, Infinite Sum, hot off the press from Indigo Sea.

But now I’m back. England is a happy memory and my American life is calling – overdue reviews, washing, cleaning and shopping, our writers’ group’s release of its fifth anthology, Bible studies to prepare … and did I mention 20160804_140752washing, cleaning and shopping? And pulling weeds. The dandelions defeated me before we left, so now I’m just going to mow them down instead of trying to extract them.

Meanwhile, that writers’ group continues to host monthly contests, and I need to come up with a prompt (my penalty for winning). Perhaps something about trains, bookstores, Venetian gondolas, dogs or marriages would work? August’s contest was inspired by someone else’s photograph. September’s asks what happens next after a disturbing opening sentence, and October’s is to write fan fiction based on Tails of Mystery. Perhaps November’s prompt could combine all three …

Writing Prompt

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  1. Here’s a picture, taken on my vacation
  2. What happens next?
  3. Please write it from the point of view of an animal (mammal, insect, fish or bird).

What would you write?

My Most Singular Venture

If I’ve been absent from the internet, or only minimally present, this last few weeks, I’ve had good reason. I embarked on a brand new venture, you see – in fact, “A Most Singular Venture,” which just happens to be the title of a wonderful new novel in the Elizabeth and Richard Literary Mysteries Series by Donna Fletcher Crow.

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As you’ll see from the cover, Elizabeth and Richard (a couple now pleasingly approaching my own age) are in London as this story begins. Elizabeth is researching locations visited by that well-known classical author, Jane Austen, while Richard is about to start teaching a summer class on Golden Age mystery authors. It’s a great combination, with tasks, characters and mysteries all dove-tailing into a plot that pulls the reader along: Explore London, learn literature, and look for a murderer, all within the covers of a single, enticing book.

But where do I fit in? And how did this singular venture keep me from the internet? Well… that’s where my own most singular and delightful venture starts, with author Donna Fletcher Crow inviting me to reawaken my editing dreams after reading my review an earlier novel in the series:

JaneAus

How could I resist? I didn’t even try. The chance to read Elizabeth and Richard’s latest adventure before anyone else? The chance to get to know one of my favorite authors better? And, yes, the chance to call myself an editor again… I spread those wings with eager delight and had a most wonderful time.

Watch out for A Most Singular Venture, coming later this year to a bookstore near you. And get ready for the adventure with a thoroughly enjoyable Jane Austen Encounter. Then spread your writing wings and feather your quill for a writing exercise:

Get Ready

  1. Think of a famous person and a place that person is connected with.
  2. Think of reasons why a group of people might visit that place?

Get Set

Make a list of ways you can connect their visit with the person

  1. Do they go to sites your famous person frequented?
  2. Do they get involved in the same sort of business?
  3. Or perhaps they see a ghost?
  4. travel in time?
  5. read a book?
  6. endure the same problems?
  7. etc.

Now Write

A story, a paragraph, an essay, or even a novel… whatever you have time for. Enjoy!