Tag Archives: book recommendation

A Wolf Called Romeo by Nick Jans

A Wolf called Romeo by Nick JansNational Geographic has an interesting article about a friendly wolf in Alaska.


Romeo appeared in the Alaskan community near Juneau, and “was a bit of a flirt, and like Shakespeare’s Romeo seemed to fall in love with”…Juliet, a yellow Labrador. Normally wolves fight with canines or eat them, but Romeo wanted to play and had his favorite humans and dogs. He would keep his distance from people but came within touching range of the author, however, Nick Jans didn’t try to pet him. He respected the wolf’s wild behavior. Romeo “would run into the middle of a game of fetch and steal the tennis ball, run off with it, throw it up in the air, and bat it with his paws.” He had his own toys that he’d bring to Jans and his friend, Harry Robinson. Romeo would pick up one of his toys, knowing how to fetch, and bring it to Harry to throw, .

The average life span of a wolf is three years and he was full grown when he came to the community. He visited them often for six more years, so he was at least eight years old at the time of his death. They didn’t feed him. He would leave for several days, apparently finding his own food.

To read more, go to the link above, or order it from you local bookstore, or go to http://www.amazon.com/Wolf-Called-Romeo-Nick-Jans/dp/054422809X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1427668462&sr=8-1&keywords=A+dog+called+Romeo

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The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass/Protagonists vs. Heroes

Fire in Fiction MaassDonald Maass states on page 9-10 in Chapter One of his book, The Fire in Fiction, that there is a difference between a protagonist and a hero. “A protagonist is the subject of a story. A hero is a human being with extraordinary qualities. A protagonist can be a hero, certainly, but isn’t always. Quite often in manuscripts the protagonists are ordinary people. They may face extraordinary circumstances in the course of the story but when we first meet them they, in effect, could be you or me.” He talks about how to have a reader’s heart open to the protagonist as soon as possible, in the “early introductory moment.”

How can writers create a bond between readers and the protagonist? Maass says, “…it is necessary to show your reader a reason to care.”  The character has to demonstrate a quality that is inspiring. “…signal to your readers that your protagonist is worth their time.”

On page 19, he tells us, “Find the secret strength in your main character, and it won’t matter whether you are working with a hero or an anti-hero. Your readers will bond with both.” If the protagonist is an ordinary person, showing a strength is important and needs to be demonstrated within the first five pages. (page 33) The strength “can be as simple as caring about someone, self-awareness, a longing for change, or hope. Any small positive quality will signal to your readers that your ordinary protagonist is worth their time.”

I checked my first five pages of Norman in the Painting and on the second page, Jill buys a homeless man a takeout breakfast. I’m relieved I have her caring about someone since she is an ordinary person. I can check off the first point Maass made in The Fire in Fiction.

(page 33) If your protagonist is a hero, already strong, “Find in him something conflicted, fallible, humbling, or human.” The flaw needs to be demonstrated within the first five pages. “Be sure to soften the flaw with self-awareness or self-deprecating humor.”

Is your protagonist an ordinary person or a hero/heroine?

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Victoria Zackheim’s FaithAnthology Book Reading in Berkeley

Faith coverVictoria Zackheim & Contributors read from Zackheim’s anthology, Faith: Essays from Believers, Agnostics, and Atheists at Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore in Berkeley on February 25th. Zackheim is the author of the novel The Bone Weaver and the editor of five anthologies, the one before Faith was Exit Laughing.  She writes documentary films and teaches creative nonfiction in the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program. Victoria Zackhaim

Among the readers at Mrs. Dalloway’s event were two writers I recognized from the San Francisco Writers Conference:Tamim Ansary and David Corbett. I remember hearing Ansary speak for the first time at the Pleasanton Library about five years ago when he promoted his book: West of Kabul, East of New York. At Dalloway’s, he read a short excerpt from his essay titled “A Secular Mystic”  Tamim Ansary

David Corbet read from his “Love and Insomnia”. Corbet is a speaker at the SFWC and will speak at The California Writers Club, Tri-Valley Branch’s Conference in April, 2015.

David Corbett with title of his bookAt the reading, Zackheim described the surprises she experienced when the essays  for Faith arrived. Each writer approached the question, “What do you believe?” in various ways. From Islamic roots that led to secular mysticism to another writer’s heated, anti-religious rant, a reader will find wit, humor, candid personal truths…something for everyone.

Faith is a book I recommend and perhaps it will be an inspiration to consider…what do you believe?


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Yiyun Li Tells Writers to Eavesdrop on Their Characters

Yiyun Li with book KinderYiyun Li, in her keynote speech at the San Francisco Writers Conference, said we should eavesdrop on our characters and their lies, lies to other characters and to us. When asked how to eavesdrop on them, Li said to let them be and see what they do. The author is like a translator and listens to the characters.

Kinder Than Solitude is a profound mystery in which three friends’ lives are changed by a murder one of them may have committed. It has been described as dark, stunning, sleek, and powerful.

Her short story collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the 2005 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and all her books have received numerous other awards. She has been compared with Chekhov, Faulkner, and Alice Munro. The New Yorker named her one of the top 20 writers under 40. When I talked briefly with her at the conference this last weekend, I thought she was under twenty-five based on her youthful voice and physical appearance.

Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing, came to the United States in 1996, and now lives in Oakland, California. She teaches at the University of California, Davis.

“To write is to eavesdrop on people’s hearts.” Yiyun Li

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Author Laurie R. King at the San Francisco Writers Conference

Laurie R. KingAt the San Francisco Writers Conference this past weekend, I met Laurie R. King, bestselling author of 22 novels. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and Dreaming Spies are two among the many books she wrote. King is the only crime writer with an Edgar and an honorary doctorate in theology.

In her Mary Russell series of which The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is the first, fifteen-year-old Russell meets Sherlock Holmes, becomes his apprentice, and then his partner. Laurie King's Beekeeper's book cover

Dreaming Spies is the title of her book to be released February 17, 2015. Laurie R. Kings's Dreaming SpiesOne of the editorial reviews on Amazon from The Washington Post Book World said that King “managed to preserve the integrity of Holmes’s character and yet somehow conjure up a woman astute, edgy, and compelling enough to be the partner of his mind as well as his heart.”

Have any of you read books by Laurie R. King?

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Gennifer Choldenko at the San Francisco Writers Conference

Al capone does my homework with author pictureOn Saturday, February 14, 2015, at the San Francisco Writers Conference, Gennifer Choldenko will speak at the special event that is free and open to the public. The conference is held at the Mark Hopkins Hotel and the event is at 3:00 to 3:45. Seating is limited so reservations are required. The session is geared to students in the 5th to 8th grade, but all of Gennifer’s fans are encouraged to attend. Children must be accompanied by a parent or adult, or one adult may accompany up to 10 children. There will be book-signing and selfies with Gennifer after the session. Kate Farrell, president of Women’s National Book Association, is the Youth Event Coordinator.

Choldenko is the author of the bestselling middle-grade Al Capone trilogy. She will discuss life on The Rock and her books: Al Capone Does My Shirts, Al Capone Shines My Shoes, and Al Capone Does My Homework. She got the idea for the first book in the series, Al Capone Does My Shirts, when she read an article in the newspaper about kids who grew up on Alcatraz. The children were sons and daughters of the guards who worked in the cell house where some of the most notorious criminals were held. She signed up to work as a docent on Alcatraz. She roamed the island imagining how it would feel to grow up there. She interviewed Alcatraz previous residents and researched books before and during the writing of the book.

Al Capone’s first job on Alcatraz was working the mangle in the laundry facility. Choldenko imagined a kid living on Alcatraz telling his friends “Al Capone does my shirts.” When I was tutoring students from Indonesia, we read Choldenko’s first book together and I enjoyed the characters, the humor, and the setting. I’m looking forward to meeting her at the conference and reading her other two books in the series. Al Capone does my shirtsSFWC_Logo_Square_400x400

You can read an interview with Gennifer on her website: http://www.gennifercholdenko.com/books/alcapone/inter4.html

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Revision and Subtext in Writing

Story LogicIn my writing class, we have finished studying Wired for Story. We have gone on to Catherine Brady’s Story Logic and the Craft of Fiction. Revision is always a topic in class and as I read Brady’s Chapter 4, p.68, I appreciated her statement:

“Revision is not engine repair; it’s not possible to lift out the carburetor, repair it, and simply return it in order to make the whole engine run properly. A work of fiction functions more like an ecosystem, in which the interaction between living organisms means that the effects of a small specific change might be amplified throughout the whole network.”

She ends that chapter on p. 69 with: “in the kinesthetic play of ordering and reordering events and scenes and sentences, the trick lies in keeping a loose hold on intention while staying alert for any opportunities that arise. By lucky accident and persistence, playfulness can arrive at the right arrangement to make silence speak.”

Brady’s reference to making silence speak is about several points one of which is subtext, a topic I’ve used in my handouts for the class these last couple months. Subtext has been called the underlying story or the untold story or knowledge gaps. A story with subtext has two stories, the literal and the figurative. It’s the figurative story the reader senses from the gaps, the silence. Brady says on p. 23, that “The real story…has never happened on the page, and yet the structure of the story enables the writer to articulate what is never directly stated.”

Brady quotes Hemingway on p. 52: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

Story Logic and the Craft of Fiction by Catherine Brady has important information for writers on every page, in every sentence. Catherine Brady


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Book Recommendation The Shadow of the Wind

The shadow of the windHas anyone read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and could comment on it here? I’m not sure how I found it on Goodreads. I think I was looking for The Quickening by Michelle Hoover and discovered The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series by Zafon. The Shadow of the Wind is the first in the series.

It received mixed reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, but I can’t resist a cemetery of forgotten books. One reviewer said Zafon created a labyrinthian library where each book wants a chance to live by being part of a new reader’s life.

Another reviewer quoted from the book: “Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The first time someone visits this place, he must choose a book and adopt it, making sure that it will never disappear, that it will always stay alive.”

Michael Dirda from The Washington Post called it “scary, erotic, touching, tragic and thrilling.” And Stephen King said, “One gorgeous read.”  I usually avoid scary books, but I want to read about that library. The title is a hook for me too. The wind has a shadow?

Let me know if you’ve read it and if it was super scary.


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Book Recommendation

The Best Am Short Stories 2014Elaine Schmitz, author of  Recipes & Recollections of My Greek-American Family, organizes a reading group that I joined this month. The six people in the group take turns recommending a book for everyone to read and then they meet once a month to discuss the chosen book. Elaine’s choice for January was The Best American Short Stories 2014.

She has read each year’s version of this book for ten years. It was interesting to hear her compare the story trends over the years. Four readers attended today. Two of us loved the stories and the other two thought they were too depressing. As we talked about the protagonists and their situations and environments, we all agreed that as writers, we learned about the way the authors drew us into the plot, how the characters changed or didn’t change, and why the editor picked those particular stories. We reviewed which stories took risks formally, structurally, and in terms of subject matter. Although we didn’t give the same examples, we could understand why our members shared their view with differing stories.

Jennifer Egan, the editor explained that the series editor, Heidi Pitlor, winnowed 208 publications to 120 individual stories and then Egan had to choose the final 20. Pitlor stated in the Foreword that Egan looked for stories that went somewhere new and strange. “She wanted to surprise and confound.” These stories certainly fulfilled her criteria.

For me the anthology is a page turner. I wanted to read the next story because I enjoyed the last one. I disliked only 3 out of the 20. The other 17 were mind expanding and influenced my writing. They modeled unusual approaches to deepening a story. I highly recommend the book.


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Smiles in Sophie Littlefield’s The Missing Place

The Missing PlaceI’m reading Sophie Littlefield’s latest novel, The Missing Place. Colleen and Shay, the mothers whose two sons are missing, have frequent disagreements due to their different backgrounds. Littlefield contrasts these characters in a realistic, sometimes humorous, way.  On page 69, they argue outside about how to proceed with searching for their sons. Shay gives in and lets Collen try to get information her way. Colleen prepares to approach two young girls working for the North Dakota oil business. She “faked a pleasant smile and went back inside.” It reminded me of my post on November 7th about smiles.

A few paragraphs later on page 70, Colleen asks the young girls about the sons disappearances. She tries to contain her emotions and maintains the fake smile. Littlefield writes, “Her face felt brittle. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep it up. But she’d learned the technique—smile before speaking even when disagreeing—at a conflict-resolution workshop she’d taken back when she was on the PTA regional board, and it really did help. Something about tricking the brain, redirecting one’s impulses. “Did either of you know my son Paul? Paul Mitchell?”

Colleen is right. As babies, the brain is programmed to recognize a smile as friendly. She wanted to win over the young girls so she smiled before speaking to them (a fake smile since she was too worried to genuinely smile). Although Colleen’s face “felt brittle” from holding the smile a long time, one of the girls takes the risk to talk to her.

The Missing Place is tension-filled with interesting characters and an unusual setting. A good book to read this winter.

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