Filling Up Your Well

by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay

Writers are readers. There is no way around that. To created deep and meaningful stories, to create fun and fast stories, to create any stories – one needs to read lots of stories. When pushed up against a deadline, it’s are hard to read many or even any books – and I will admit that during those last frenetic days, other writer’s books go away as I get deeper into my own. However, the minute my manuscript is handed in, I’m empty. There isn’t a shred of creativity left…

And that when what I call the “well of good stories” must be refilled. I dig into the world and words of others, relishing their creativity and getting excitement about my own – when it returns.

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Here are a few favorites I’ve come across recently. This list is by no means exhaustive; it’s more of a tasting of good books I’ve read:

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (Death is fascinating!)

Did you Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg (Incredible narrative voices and so many of them)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Multigenerational tale with multiple POVs)

The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge (Delightful retelling/sequel to a beloved classic)

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Wonderful setting and cadence of language)

Please in the comments add your favorites. We should share because reading is an essential aspect to writing. And winter is a wonderful time to curl up with a good book.



The Austen Escape

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.
But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.
Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy& Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. She holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.

Reasons Why Writers Should Love E-Books

Photo: Research with highlighter

by Alton Gansky

Easily accessible E-books have been around for a decade and a half. The process and invention go back a little more than that, but the real surge came in the early 2000s. Since then, digital publishing has become a mainstay for publishers, indies, and writers. Several times a year, someone writes an article about how 1) e-books are crushing print books, or 2) how print books are crushing e-books. At the end of the discussion, however, both sides still agree that there are a lot of e-books being published.

Writers should love e-books. In fact, (don’t throw stones until you’ve finished this paragraph), for writers e-books are superior to print books. I’m not talking about publishing e-books. That’s a topic for another time and probably one best handled by a different writer. I’m talking about e-books used to help your work-in-progress.

Yes, I know that there remains a debate about the superiority of physical books. The pleasure, the feel, even the smell satisfies the avid reader more than digital ink. The debate seems silly to me and reminds me of the couple who argue over which is better, salt or pepper. I leave such jawing to others. I want to present my belief that e-books are to be valued by any writer that has to do research to make his/her work-in-progress the best it can be. Here’s what I mean:

  1. Never be without material to read. This is me stating the obvious first. One great advantage to e-books is that the writer can carry around a library in a single device. This means that those books you use for research or inspiration are always within reach. I have apps on my iPhone, iPad (several iPads actually—don’t judge me). Those apps include Kindle, Nook, and iBooks. If I’m waiting at the dentist or the auto shop (don’t ask, it’s too sad for words) I can continue my research. I have scores of physical books on various topics. I can’t imagine carrying them with me when I go somewhere. With digital books, I can do just that.
  2. Cheaper research. E-books are more often than not cheaper to purchase than their physical counterparts. If you’re having to do a lot of research on say, WWII American submarines, then you can drop several pretty pennies on some of the books you’ll need. The price of one hardbound book can be used to buy several e-books (not always, but frequently).
  3. Makes you a better interviewee. Like you, I’ve spent a great deal of time doing radio interviews. This was especially true for my books 60 People Who Shaped the Church and 30 Events That Shaped the Church. I’ve also done a large number of interviews for my novels. Since I ain’t all that smart, I like to have notes in front of me. I have found having an e-book version before me lets me run down the info I need.
  4. More efficient reading. 
    • Highlighting. I love the highlighting function of e-books. Sure, you can highlight a physical book. I’ve marked up a great many of those. The point is: An e-book allows the writer to highlight some important bit of info needed in her work-in-progress. Especially when one considers the next item:
    • Highlight summary. Most e-readers not only allow digital highlighting but will display every highlight as a list, making it remarkably easy to find what you’re looking for.
    • Search function. This is a real time saver. Ever wonder why e-books don’t have indexes? They don’t need them. No index is easier to use than a Find function in an e-book. Recall a word or two of a line you read? Search for it and the reader will find all words that match your search and say, “Here ya go, would you like some cookies too?” Okay, maybe the cookie thing is a fantasy, but the rest of my statement is true.

Well, that’s a start. Can you think of other ways e-books can help you with your current project?

Alton Gansky is the author of 50 books, fiction and nonfiction. He is also the co-host of Firsts in Fiction podcast.

Alton Gansky

Hook ‘em Tight: One Technique for Writing a Book They Can’t Put Down by Author Janine Mendenhall

So you’d like to write a novel, huh? I can appreciate that. I want to write another one too. In fact, like you, I’d like to keep writing them from now on—a book a year, or maybe even two. But the thing is neither one of us wants to produce an ordinary piece. 
We both want to please our readers so much that they won’t want to put our books down, right?
That means we need to hook our respective audiences not only with an excellent story full of conflict-based tension, but most especially, where people normally think it’s time to stop reading.
So when do readers reach for their bookmark? (I’ll give you one guess.)
That’s it, at the end of a chapter!
Before I go any further, I need to give credit where it is due because, the truth of the matter is, I learned to write (and still am, by the way) by following Steven James’s directions in Story Trumps Structure and from other great Craft books written by James Scott Bell, Jack M. Bickham, and Jordan E. Rosenfeld—to name a few.
Now that that’s settled, let me share three ways to keep your readers reading. 
3 Ways to Hook Readers at the End of a Chapter 
(My examples come from my debut inspirational historical fiction/romance novel. Preview Starving Hearts at 
  1. Modify Your Thinking. The close of a chapter is NOT the end. It’s the beginning of your next scene, or one that will follow soon enough. Instead of tying things up in a nice little bow and losing the tension you’ve built up, create some suspense by leaving a string untied. 
Add an extra dose of tension in the language too.
These are the last three sentences of Chapter 2–Savior in Starving Hearts.
        At the far end of the gallery, she entered the deserted renovation area. Honestly, at the moment, she could not care less that it was off limits. 
       Opening the door of the first room she reached, Annette stepped in and lurched to a halt.
Did you see and feel that? 
The door opened, but we couldn’t see what Annette saw. The shocking word lurched created a touch of suspense, and the reader turned the page. 
Once the page is turned, we’re safe, as long as there’s a good hook waiting to catch the reader at the beginning of the next chapter.
  1. Create Nagging Doubt. Our readers have very quick minds. If we offer just enough information to create a slight imbalance, they will get the subtle hint and ask themselves “But did she?” (or a similar contrary question), and that will be enough to make them move on and find the answer.  
Here’s what I mean.
Read the last three sentences of the Prologue of Starving Hearts. See if you feel enough doubt to cause you to ask what I call a contrary question.
         Annette was too overwhelmed to care. All she wanted was Mother’s assurance that she would never see or hear of the fiend again. Mrs. Chetwynd agreed that was best, and she would personally see him immediately dispatched from the estate. And that was precisely what Annette believed Mother would do.  
Of course, readers don’t necessarily realize they are constantly scrutinizing stories as they read them. But did you recognize the subtle “But did she?” that came at the end of that sentence? 
My heroine, Annette, believed her mother would do what she said, but the fact that I wrote it this way caused you to doubt that her mother did what she said.
That nagging doubt is enough to keep the reader going, of course, it also makes a promise, and as Steven James always says, we need to be very careful to keep our promises to our readers. 
If we don’t, they will close our books and never read any of them again. (If you haven’t read Story Trumps Structure, please know, it is well worth your time, and Steven James isn’t even paying me to say this. ☺)
  1. Play Opposites Attract.  I cannot emphasize it enough. Our readers are very intelligent, and they often automatically predict what will happen next. We can take advantage of this brilliance by giving them something negative or scary to worry them without even putting it on paper.
Notice the end of Chapter 4—The Plan. 
You will automatically predict that the opposite of what I’m telling you is really what will happen next. And because that opposite is attractive in a negative way, it’s likely you’ll want to find out how bad things get for my hero, Peter.
Try it, and see what happens.
         Adjusting his evening coat again, Peter willed himself to move to the door. He had made his decision. He would propose tonight, and she would accept him. Then his life would begin, and all would be well.
It did happen, didn’t it? You predicted she would not accept his proposal and that things would not end well, right? That’s because you’re smart, just like our readers.
On that note, it’s time to say goodbye, at least for now. I hope you enjoyed this little lesson on 3 Ways to Hook Readers at the End of a Chapter so they can’t put your book down. Visit me and preview Starving Hearts to see if I’m successful at keeping your attention. 
If I do, remember, the credit for Craft goes to those I mentioned above, but the real glory belongs to God.   “Whoever abides in (Him) . . . bears much fruit, for apart from (Him) you can do nothing.” John 15:5
Janine Mendenhall teaches teens English, of all things! Sometimes she sleeps, but most nights she reads, writes, or watches movies like “Pride and Prejudice” and claims she’s researching her next book. “Splickety Love” and “Splickety Prime” have published her flash fiction. She and her husband, Tom, live in North Carolina where they and their two golden retrievers help gratify the needs of their five children and two cats.


Are You a Re-Reader?

post by Michelle Griep

“To quote French author Francois Mauriac, ‘Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are’ is true enough, but I’d know you better if you told me what you reread.” 

 ~ Sarah Wendell, American author and reviewer

Do you ever re-read a book? Sometimes when I admit this out loud, I get the same reaction as if I’d said, “I haven’t washed my underpants in three weeks.” Yep. That combination slack-jawed frowny face type of look. But come on, folks, I can’t be the only freak out there.
Turns out I’m not. In fact, there’s an entire page on Goodreads devoted to books recommend to re-read. What’s up with that? With all the bajillions of books out on the market, why pull an oldie off the shelf?
One study based on interviews in the U.S. and New Zealand reveals that a ‘second run’ (techno term for rereading a book) can offer “profound emotional benefits.” But that warm and fuzzy feeling isn’t the only reason why people pick up a title for the second or third time. . .
1. To Run Away
Everyone needs to press the eject button now and then and escape from a nose-diving schedule. When you open a favorite book, it’s like running away to Happy Land because you know exactly what will happen with characters you feel safe with. . . which can be the polar opposite of reality.
2. The Movie Version is About to Hit Theaters
You remember loving the story, but you want to make sure you don’t sound like an idiot when you tell your buddies how Hollywood got it all wrong. Think of this as the research approach to re-reading.
3. It’s Tradition
My girls, though they’re now in their twenties, still read The Christmas Puppy every Christmas Eve. It’s for preschoolers. Sheesh. But they can’t have a proper Christmas unless they read it together.
4. Go Deeper
Maybe you missed a theme the first time around. Even if you didn’t, there are always nuances and things you didn’t notice before because guess what . . . you’re older. You’re not the same reader you were the first go around. You’re bound to get something different out of a re-read.
5. You Don’t Like a Particular Author’s New Style
Writers change over time, but that doesn’t mean you’ll like the changes. Some fans are die-hard, old school, gotta-have-the-same-old-same-old. And that’s okay.
One of my favorite titles to re-read is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. What’s one of yours?

Like what you read? There’s more. WRITER OFF THE LEASH: GROWING IN THE WRITING CRAFT is a kick in the pants for anyone who wants to write but is stymied by fear, doubt, or simply doesn’t know how to take their writing to the next level.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. Follow her adventures and find out about upcoming new releases at her blog, Writer Off the Leash, or stop by her website. You can also find her at the usual haunts of FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.