Friday, December 28, 2007


Hooray! My router must be working. So I'd better get these November books in before December is over.

SWITCHING TIME/Richard Baer/B+: Written by a psychiatrist, detailing the true story of a patient who suffered multiple personality disorder. I picked it up for personal reasons and I'm glad I read it for those same personal reasons. If you're interested in how fractured the human mind can become trying to protect itself, this is a fascinating book.

ONE GOOD TURN/Kate Atkinson/A-: A follow-up to CASE HISTORIES, this book features former private detective Jackson Brodie, now rich and retired. He's followed his girlfriend to Edinburgh for a theater festival and runs straight into criminal activity. Beautifully written and a whole host of fascinating characters and motivations, this book delivers a compelling story and a resolution I didn't see coming.

MOCKINGBIRD/Charles Shields/A: The biography of Nelle Harper Lee, highly recommended for anyone who loved TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Lee has become famously reclusive as she's aged, but this book pulls together her public statements and the private papers of others to give a fascinating portrait of the writer. It can't answer the question everyone has--Why did she not write another book?--but it gives enough clues and facts to provide an interesting theory.

MESSENGER OF TRUTH/Jacqueline Winspear/B+: I didn't like this 4th book in the Maisie Dobbs series nearly as well as the previous 3. Still a great period piece (Britain in the early 1930s) and with a good mystery at its core, but Winspear resorted to some tricks that I can't stand. Like having Maisie think that she knows what happened, but hiding it from the reader. In my book, that's false tension and it weakens any story.

A MONSTROUS REGIMENT OF WOMEN/Laurie R. King/A+: My re-reading of this book right after the previous Maisie Dobbs reinforced how much I love Mary Russell. This is my favorite of the Russell/Holmes series, in which Mary has to confront her feelings for Sherlock Holmes while also dealing with a charismatic female spiritualist and the possible murders that have occurred in her inner circle. King is a master at hinting and letting the reader feel the latent tension and attraction between Holmes and Russell. Love, love, love this book.

LIFE IN THE YEAR 1000/Danny Danziger/A: A wonderful book about life in England at the turn of the last millennium. It's structured around the Julian work calender, going month by month to give an overview of medieval life in English villages and towns just before the Norman invasion. Written for a general audience, I recommend it for anyone with an interest in history.

THE POE SHADOW/Matthew Pearl/A-: Surprisingly, I went ahead and read this after my disappointment with his first book, THE DANTE CLUB. Even more surprisingly, this book was far and away better than the first. Quentin Clark, a Baltimore attorney and admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, is shocked by the poet's death in his city. He's also convinced there's more to that death than meets the eye. He risks his career, his friends, and his engagement to find out the truth behind Poe's death as well as the truth behind Poe's creation of his most memorable character, Auguste Dupin.

AFRICAN WOMEN/Mark Mathabone/A-: Mathabone writes stirringly about the lives of his grandmother, mother, and sister in apartheid South Africa. From the indignities of being bought by husbands to the struggles of mothers to keep their children alive and safe, this is a wonderful book about the difficulties so many women in the world face today. Made me feel both blessed and guilty--and desirous of helping other women.

THE MAN EATERS OF TSAVO/J.H. Patterson/B: Written a hundred years ago by the colonel detailed to British East Africa (now Kenya) to oversee the completion of the Uganda railroad. During this time, dozens of Indian workers were killed by two lions in a short stretch of the railway near Tsavo. Patterson recounts the attempts to hunt down the lions, including the famous story of Charles Ryall's sitting up all night in a railway car only to be carried away and killed by one of the lions. The book also includes Patterson's memories of hunting other African animals, liberally sprinkled with photos. An interesting look at another time and different mores--and it was hard for me to accept the enthusiastic accounts of killing animals for no reason other than sport.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


I've been shut out of blogger for a week. I could see my blog, but I couldn't get into the dashboard to post anything new. My husband fixed it last night when he returned from Boston. He says we need a new router. I'll take his word for it. I'm just glad to be back.

And yes, I finished. The month, the challenge, the first draft . . . history :)

Words written in November: 41,879

Average word count per day: 1396

Not quite my goal of 1500 per day, but not bad considering it took me 18 months to write the first 30,000 words of the novel and only 1 month to write 41,000. And, what makes me most proud, I wrote every single day. Sure, I had my 76 word days--but I still wrote something.

This doesn't mean I'm quite ready to start sending out the manuscript. There are quite a few scenes that need to be written in earlier spots, since I tend to change things as I write and the people and situations as I near the end aren't always what I started with in the beginning. But it's wonderful to have a structure to work with.

What did I learn from this experience?

1. That writer's block isn't always a case of writing something wrong and needing to rethink my direction. Sometimes, writer's block is just laziness (or inertia, as I prefer to think of it.) The hardest part of overcoming inertia is the initial effort. Then, with each day, momentum gathers and starts to take on a life of its own. That doesn't mean that day 30 was any easier than day 1, but that I had an energy on day 30 that I didn't have day 1.

2. That I am just not a serious outliner. I have friends that swear by their outlines. Not me. Not to leave the impression that I'm a complete freeform sort of writer. I always (almost always, I have one story now that's giving me fits) know my endings before I begin. I know where I'm headed and I know five or six high points along the way. But trying to fill in the blanks between those kills the joy for me. I've done it--I even did it for this book--but what I wrote bears only a passing resemblance to that outline. My mind is set free by the actual act of writing. Any amount of dreaming beforehand is not as powerful, for me, as what my mind does when I start to put my people in situations. That's when my imagination kicks in and I do my best thinking.

3. That sheer force of will can accomplish the same thing as inspiration. Don't wait for the muse--go out and wrestle her to the ground.

4. That I can do anything if I set my mind to it.

So now it's time to set my mind to the second draft. Wish me luck!