Category Archives: writing

The Nighttime Novelist

The Nighttime Novelist – Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time by Joseph Bates, is not just for people who feel they don’t have time to write that book they’re always saying they’re going to write.

While Nighttime Novelist has especially good advice and inspiration for those who work full time, it is an equally valuable read for any writer.

When asked which books one should read to learn how to go about writing a novel, there are two I immediately name:

#1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White
#2. On Writing by Stephen King

Now I would add this book as #3 to my list. While Elements of Style is necessary for the basics, and Stephen King is necessary for inspiration, The Nighttime Novelist would be the actual blue prints of how to get your story down on paper.

Don’t expect this to be a boring instructional read though. Joseph Bates uses humor throughout the well-organized manual, along with a very friendly tone and relatable examples from pop culture.

If you’re one of those people who says, “I want to write a book some day,” but have yet to put a single word on paper – Get this book and turn “some day” into tonight.

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Of Mice and Men

Last year I read John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, and I’ll admit that I picked it up purely because the title caught my attention. I ended up not only loving the story, but Steinbeck’s writing.

How did I make it through all of my Honors English classes without being forced to read at least one of his works? … Well, I guess better late than never.

So this year I decided to read Of Mice and Men. (I like to mix a few classics into the new fiction that I read.)

Reading this book as a writer is fascinating because Steinbeck breaks “the rules” but he does it beautifully. While reading Of Mice and Men, (and also Tortilla Flat), I wondered how Steinbeck researched before writing. How did he manage to replicate so perfectly the language and lifestyle of migrant laborers?

My answer came at the back of the book in the “About the Author” section.

“John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, in 1902. His first three books were financial failures, and he worked at various kinds of jobs to survive, including fruit picking…”

A good reminder for writers to “write what you know”.

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100 books in 2009 progress, etc.

Life has been insanely busy. I have barely had time to read because when I’m not busy writing, (meaning I have somehow been convinced or pulled by force away from the laptop), I am attending to household/family/life duties.

I did not “win” Nanowrimo this year, but that’s okay. I’ve got a good start on another novel so I’m content.

I don’t know if I’ll make it to 100 books this year. I am on book #86 right now, I believe. This is still the most books I’ve read in one year and it has been such a rewarding experience that I intend to do it again in 2010. I’ve already got quite a list going, (my 2009 list of books to read extends far beyond 100). Did you read any this year that you recommend to me for 2010? If you also took on this challenge, how are you doing?

Who is going to join me in challenging themselves to read more next year? It doesn’t have to be 100 books – it could be 75, 50, 25, or even 1 book a month. Whatever you like! Leave a comment if you’ll be joining me and if there’s enough interest, maybe I’ll do something special like create a cute graphic to post on your blog.

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Nanowrimo time, everybody!

nano_09_red_participant_100x100_1Just a couple more days before the “30 days and nights of literary abandon” :)

I’m in. Who’s with me?

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I Used To Know That

3books

This series of books from Reader’s Digest are fantastic. I read and reviewed i before e (except after c) by Judy Parkinson last year.

This year I had the opportunity to review My Grammar and I…Or Should That Be Me? by Caroline Taggart and J.A. Wines, as well as, I Used to Know That by Caroline Taggart.

My Grammar and I is the most thorough yet accessible guide to speaking and writing correctly that I’ve come across; deserving a spot on the shelf next to my battered, dog-eared, highlighted copy of Elements of Style.

One of my favorite sections in this book was the extensive list of what you call certain groups of animals and insects. So while we all may know “school of fish”, “herd of deer”, “colony of ants” and “flock of birds”, here are a few that might be new to you:

An army of caterpillars (That’s a lot of boots!)
An intrusion of cockroaches, (Too appropriate!)
A murder of crows, (Alfred Hitchcock, anyone?)
A parliament of owls, (Such wise decision makers!) … and
A prickle of porcupines (How cute!)

This book is full of practical and fun information and would be a great addition to anyone’s reference bookshelf.

The second book, I Used To Know That – Stuff You Forgot From School, is exactly that. There was a lot in this book that I never even learned and had the chance to forget! … It’s pretty amazing how much learning they packed into this slim book, and it’s well organized, too. This one will be getting a lot of use at our house, particularly the Math section when I need to help our kids with homework. (Have you ever forgotten how to divide fractions? It’s not pretty.)

Below is an article from the author which I have been authorized to share. Enjoy!

Ten Trivia Facts You Probably Used to Know
By Caroline Taggart,
Author of I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School

You know how it is — the kids come home from school full of enthusiasm for a new subject, ask you to explain something, and you think, “Oh, yes, I used to know that.” When I started to write a book on things you’d forgotten from your schooldays, I realised that I half-knew lots of stuff. I’d heard of phrases and clauses, but did I know the difference between them? I had a vague idea about photosynthesis — it’s to do with how plants grow, isn’t it? But doesn’t being green come into it somewhere? And then there was the War of 1812 — what was that all about?

So there are three Top Trivia Questions to start with; I’ll answer them and then I’ll give you seven more. That way, even if you can’t answer the kids’ questions, you can quickly change the subject and throw in some knowledge of your own.

  1. Language: What’s the difference between a clause and a phrase? These are the building blocks of a sentence. The difference is that a clause contains a subject and a verb. It often stands alone as a simple sentence (He loves dogs), but may also be part of a longer sentence (He loves dogs, but he doesn’t own one). A phrase is a group of words in a sentence that does not contain a subject and a verb (In the afternoon, he took his mother’s dog for a walk).
  2. Biology: What is photosynthesis? It is — as we suspected — to do with how plants grow. It’s the process by which they convert carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates, using the energy they absorb from light by means of a green pigment called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is stored mainly in the leaves and is the reason most plants are green. Photosynthesis releases oxygen into the atmosphere, enabling the rest of us to breathe.
  3. History: The war of 1812, between the U.S. and Britain, actually lasted nearly three years, from 1812 to 1815. Britain was already at war with France (under Napoleon) and the U.S. sided with the French. American ships, trying to break a blockade that would prevent supplies from reaching France, were being seized by the British, who then coerced American seamen into the Royal Navy. On top of that, the U.S. was disputing British control of territories in Canada; New England’s support for Britain complicated the issue further. This war — the last time the U.S. and Britain fought on opposing sides — ended in stalemate when the British defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo and subsequently lifted their blockade.
  4. Literature: Where does the expression ‘It just growed’ come from? It’s a misquotation from Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96), a fiercely anti-slavery novel published in 1852, when this was the political hot potato in America. The most famous character is the slave girl Topsy, who didn’t know where she came from (i.e. didn’t realise that God had made her) and said, ‘I s’pect I growed.’
  5. Math: who was that Pythagoras guy anyway? He was a Greek mathematician and philosopher who lived in the 6th century BC. His theorem (the word comes from the same root as “theory” but means something that can be proved) states that in a right-angled triangle “the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.” The hypotenuse is the longest side of the triangle, opposite the right angle. This theorem really really matters to mathematicians, because it is fundamental to calculations used in architecture, engineering, astronomy, navigation and the like.
  6. Geography: which were the original 13 states of the Union? In alphabetical order: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia. Delaware was the first to ratify the new constitution and is nicknamed “The First State” to this day.
  7. Chemistry: what’s the Periodic Table of Elements? It’s a way of setting out the names of all the known chemical elements so that the vertical columns contain groups or families with similar properties. It was devised in the 19th century by a Russian chemist called Mendeleev and has been in use ever since. An element, by the way, is a substance that cannot be decomposed into a simpler substance by a chemical process. Groups of elements come together to form compounds. So, for example, a combination of the element hydrogen (H) and the element oxygen (O) can form the compound water (H2O).
  8. Physics: what are conduction, convection and radiation? These are the ways in which heat is transferred from one “body” (that is, “thing”) to another. Put simply, conduction means that a cool thing — whether solid, liquid, or gas — is warmed up by coming into contact with a hot thing. Convection occurs in liquids and gases and is the basis of the principle that hot air rises. A hot liquid or gas is generally less dense than a cool one; as the hot particles rise, cooler ones rush in underneath to take their place. The hot particles, having risen, cool and come down again, and so on. Radiation involves the energy that all objects emit. It is the only one of the three methods that works in a vacuum and is how the sun’s rays manage to warm the Earth from so far away.
  9. Art: who was Jackson Pollock? He was what is called an Abstract Expressionist and he believed that the act of painting was more important than the finished product. His paintings are therefore highly colourful, often huge, and (like his life) chaotic to the point of frenzy. He died in a motor accident in 1956, aged only 44.
  10. Music: why should I care about Johann Sebastian Bach? He was incredibly important in the development of classical music: without him, some say, there might have been no Haydn, no Mozart, and no Beethoven. He wrote mostly organ music, church music, and orchestral music; his most famous works include the Brandenburg Concertos, the St. Matthew PassionThe Well-Tempered Clavier, and Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. He had many children, including the composers Carl Philip Emmanuel and Johann Christian.

©2009 Caroline Taggart, author of I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School

Author Bio

Caroline Taggart, author of I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School, has been an editor of non-fiction books for nearly 30 years and has covered nearly every subject from natural history and business to gardening and astronomy. She has written several books and was the editor of Writer’s Market UK 2009.

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A is for Atticus

A is for Atticus by Lorilee Craker is an absolute must have for bibliophiles and parents to be, (and if you’re both, you won’t find a better book for naming your baby.)

I wish this book had been around when I was naming my two sons. I picked two literary names for my boys anyway, but if I’d have had this book in hand, I may have had the courage to go ahead and name one of them one of the more unique names I had on the list of possibilities like Holden (Caulfield) or Langston (Hughes). Or maybe I would have even come across a name I never even considered such as Oliver (Twist) or (Tom) Sawyer.

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Four Wives

Right now I’m in the middle of a book called Four Wives by Wendy Walker. It’s such a page turner that I’m ready to get off the computer and go finish reading it in just a few minutes.

The story revolves around four women in a wealthy suburban town called Hunting Ridge. Each of them has healthy children, good looks, a handsome, successful husband, and a big house. On the outside, perfect lives. All four of the women’s stories intertwine with one another as they try to hide secrets about their dissatisfaction with their lives, infidelity, and more.

There are parts of this story which remind me of something that would be on Desperate Housewives, and other parts which would resonate deeply with any married mother of young children. It’s all in there; the stress, the joy, the guilt, marriage difficulties, career choices – this book seems to touch on everything in a really personal and entertaining way.

It’s no wonder, the author, Wendy Walker, wrote this novel as a stay-at-home-mom. She claims to have written the majority of it from the backseat of her minivan.

Here is one of my very favorite passages:

It was not a terrible life. Janie Kirk was a suburban housewife, the steadfast bottom of an inverse pyramid upon which the demands of her family balanced. It was a life founded at its core in her love for the children who lay sleeping inside. From there it grew heavy with the weight of their needs, and those of her husband, which she had carried on her shoulders for so many years. School, soccer, ballet, swimming. Doctors, dentists, speech therapists. Food on the table every day. Laundry, yard work, pets. Birthday parties. Dieting. Sex. It was an odd existence when she stopped to consider it, but so completely common that she rarely did, and it occurred to her that it would be close to perfect if she hadn’t contracted the unfortunate disease of discontentment.

You can read a much longer excerpt at Wendy Walker’s site, or get the book.

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