Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Even Writers Get Vacations...Sort of

There's been very little posting on the blog for the last few weeks because the family and I have been on extended vacation in Oregon, a much nicer place to spend July than in central Texas. Unfortunately, we are heading back at the end of the week, just in time for Triple Digit August. Thanks to my vivid writer's imagination, I'm doing a great job of pretending I'm not actually leaving Oregon any time soon.

So that hubs could get some work done, we're in a house with wifi, which means I've been getting some work done every now and then, too. And I've got some exciting news that I can now officially announce (because I have the official banner with dates and everything).

Remember my earlier post about the importance of investing in your own writing and hiring a team of professionals for your book? The pro's at Wisdom House Books have done something that I absolutely could not have pulled off by myself. I don't have either the contacts or the bandwidth to put together a book blog tour. And if you're a self-published author, as I am, this kind of publicity is critical to finding your audience and connecting with your readers. I feel so fortunate to have found the talented professionals that I found at Wisdom House books. They also did the book interior design and layout, and the rocking cover design exactly to my specifications.

Here's the beautiful banner they made for me:

I'll be adding this to its proper home at the top of the blog after I get home, but I'm too excited about this not to pre-announce it now. As the tour is ongoing I'll post links on Twitter and Facebook, and then a tour recap post here thanking all of the tourists.

Some other fun I've been having over my vacation is watching the book reviews from the Goodreads giveaway winners come in. Reviews have been positive, and they've also given me insight into some of the aspects of 12th c. England and what is known about women's lives and the role of religion from that period that I should take some time to illuminate here for my readers. I did so much research for Gwendolyn's Sword, and only so much of that background could be included in the Historical Notes section at the end of the book. But there's more to know about this period that is perhaps surprising and different from what we would assume must have been the reality. I'm looking forward to busting a few middle ages stereotypes with these future posts.

Finally, the good folks at Wisdom House Books also pointed me toward various contests that I entered last spring. Over the next several months finalists and winners will be announced. Fingers are crossed that I'll have more good news to announce in the coming months.

Happy summer, readers!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Join a Book Club!

Yes, I know we all have ridiculously full schedules. We're working, we have deadlines, family obligations, volunteer obligations, not to mention maintaining our physical and mental health and well being. Well, file this suggestion under that last, often over-looked chore--maintaining your wellness.

We have lots of digital pathways open to us that allow us to dip in, on our own schedule, from the convenience of our own kitchen table or sofa, to online book reading communities. Like this blog! And look, here you are reading about reading! So easy! There's also Goodreads, as well as a huge number of blogs/vlogs and book review sites and communities for every genre and interest--too much to shake a stick at.

And yet, reading books is a communal experience. As the famous line from "The Dead Poets Society" goes: "We read to know we are not alone." So while all of the above digital communities are invaluable in enriching the reading (and writing) experience, I want to make a plea right here and now for the importance and irreplaceable value of meeting with other fans of reading, face-to-face, on a regular basis.

I belong to a book group that I started about a year ago by posting a message to my neighborhood listserve describing the kind of books I'd like to read and the timing (one book and one meeting per month), and now get to be a part of a regular meeting of ten like-minded readers from all walks of life and generations. We meet at a nearby restaurant that is neither cool nor trendy--so there's always a table large enough for us available. And the restaurant has a fine offering of table- (and wallet-) friendly wines and a full bar if something more adventurous is called for. No one has to cook or clean up, so all we do is sit and discuss the book we've all just read.

As a writer, this regular window into readers' minds, with people I have grown to know well and whose opinions I value, cannot be replaced. I get to hear their impressions of different styles of writing, how different characters strike them, the little things that they liked or didn't like about a story. This is great information. They all know that I'm a writer, and that I'm listening closely to their impressions. They don't mind at all. I have *not* suggested my book to the group, partly because we don't read books in the genre that I write, historical fantasy, and partly because that would just be weird and self-serving. But I do rely on my experience as a writer to add to the conversation in the group--the challenges of constructing character, the temptation to rely on easy plot ploys to get oneself out of the corner one has written oneself into--that sort of thing.

As a reader, I get so much more out of the reading experience by discussing the books with these folks. They bring up interpretations and connections that I sometimes missed entirely. They help me to see the layers of meaning, because different layers stood out to them than registered for me. They remind me that story-telling is essentially a communal experience, down through the many ages and cultures of humans. After a year, our little group has gelled. We are extremely informal. We are reading books I wouldn't have picked on my own (also great and necessary for a writer!). My appreciation for the craft of story-telling continues to grow.

So...if you aren't already in a book club, consider starting one. It's easy, free, and takes only a tiny bit of your time to manage. You get to decide what you want to read and the schedule, and then ask if there's anyone out there who would like to form a club with you. But more importantly, it connects you to books and story-telling in a communal way that can't be duplicated through any online platform or forum.

Are you already in a book club? I'd love to hear about it! How did your book club get started? How long has your club been reading together? What do you read? How are your meetings run? Tell me in the comments below!