Wednesday, May 1, 2013

An illicit peek at what’s on my nightstand

There’s a conversation I’ve had several times since I became a published author, and it goes something like this:

New writer: I was wondering if you could give me some advice?

Me: Lock the dog out of the room before bumping uglies with your significant other.

New writer: No, I mean advice for becoming a published author.

Me: Oh. Sure, I’d say read.

New writer: Read?

Me: Read everything you can get your hands on. Read inside your genre, outside your genre, in your bed, or out of your comfort zone. Read fiction, nonfiction, magazines, medical journals, cereal boxes, and fortune cookies.

New writer: Yeah, well—I’m not really much of a reader, and I really don’t have that kind of time…

At which point I will either politely excuse myself from the conversation, or beat the person’s head against the bar. It depends on how full my wineglass is.

Suffice it to say, I’m a fervent believer in reading as the cornerstone to improving your skills as a writer. There truly is no better way to study the craft and learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to putting words on a page.

I thought about this the other day when I was asked in an interview what books I’m currently reading, and I caught myself giving a censored answer. Not because I’m ashamed to be reading porn (I’ll happily admit that) but because I read so many books simultaneously, it sounds a little absurd.

I’m not afraid of sounding absurd here, so behold, I give you the current rundown of what I’m reading and why I’m reading it.

Title: Caught up in Us
Author: Lauren Blakely
Genre: Romance
Why I picked it: My agent recommended it.
What I love about it: This is a fun, fluffy, flirty, sexy romance that flows well, offers solid writing and interesting, likeable characters. Is it a little predictable? Of course! But sometimes that’s exactly why I choose a romance novel. I want my happily-ever-after, and I want some good sexin’ along the way. This has both, and it served as a terrific reminder of what I love about the romance genre.

Author: Kyra Cornelius Kramer
Genre: Historical nonfiction
Why I picked it: A friend recommended it.
What I love about it: I adore when a book sheds new light on a subject I thought I already knew pretty well. I’ve read plenty of books about England’s King Henry VIII, the Boleyn sisters, and the Tudor dynasty, but this book made me rethink a lot of things I thought I already knew. The author explores the possibility that Henry may have suffered from a medical condition that caused him to do crazy shit like behead friends and wives, and also made it difficult for him to sire children. The author’s expertise in medical anthropology is fascinating, but what I really loved is how entertaining and approachable she makes the material. I got so engrossed reading it on the elliptical machine, that I ended up doing a two hour workout. Even if I hated the book (which I obviously didn’t) I have to feel grateful for the excuse to eat bacon and have an extra glass of wine that night.

Author: Maria Semple
Genre: General fiction
Why I picked it: The book club I’ve belonged to for 14 years chose it as our April selection.
What I love about it: This charmingly funny story is told via the mixed media of humorous FBI documents, emails, letters, and narration from several characters trying to piece together what happened to a quirky wife/mother/architect who vanished. The characters are offbeat and unique, the writing is tight and hilarious, and the vividly-described Seattle setting had me laughing out loud at all the idiosyncrasies of my native Pacific Northwest. Just when I thought I’d pegged a character a certain way, the author would reveal another side to him/her that kept me breathlessly turning pages. And laughing. Lotsa laughing with this one.

Author: Wednesday Martin, PhD
Genre: Self help
Why I picked it: I spent the first 36 years of my life steadfastly, devoutly childless-by-choice, only to find myself in a relationship with the single father of two amazing kids. That was two years ago, and while my gentleman friend’s offspring are adorable, smart, funny, well-behaved, and lovable, the fact remains that I’m on very unfamiliar turf being around kids at all, let alone functioning in a semi-sorta stepparent role.  When something makes me uncertain or uncomfortable, I research the hell out of it. That’s sorta my thing, and it’s how I ended up with about a dozen stepmother-themed self-help books on my nightstand. This one was my favorite.
What I love about it: Many of the books I picked up had a doom-and-gloom approach, sharing commiserative stories about unsupportive men and bratty kids, or spouting statistics about how few women would get involved with single dads if they had it to do over again. I’m pretty far from that scenario, and just wanted more understanding of the human dynamics and what’s at the root of them. This book offered oodles of case studies, a good dose of psychology, and a healthy helping of validation that most of the things I’d been thinking and feeling are normal. Well, in this realm, anyway.

Authors: Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Carol Marine
Genre: Self help
Why I picked it: A fellow author who’s been on the same divorce/dating a single dad track as me recommended this book at the same time I suggested Stepmonster to her. If you’re involved with a single father, odds are good you’ll need some sort of relationship with the mother of his offspring. While things have gone just fine for me in this area, I’m always looking for ways to gain more understanding and improve my own coping techniques.
What I love about it: This book is co-written by a duo of women married to the same man. Er, that didn’t come out right. The ex-wife and new wife share their experiences from the different perspectives of the mom and the stepmom – each "the other woman" in her own way. Though I’m only a few chapters in, I’m enjoying the she said/she said interplay and the quizzes and worksheets that force readers to confront their own snarky issues and secret evil thoughts. Not that I have any of those.

Title: The Best Man
Author: Kristan Higgins
Genre: Romantic comedy
Why I picked it: Kristan Higgins is on my auto-buy list anytime she releases a new book. I adore everything she writes, and this was no exception.
What I love about it: I love studying the work of the grand dames of the romantic comedy genre, and Kristan Higgins is one of the masters. She strikes precisely the right balance of funny and poignant, and her characters are always charming and unique. I read this one on the beach during a recent trip to Hawaii, and it promptly became one of my all-time favorites among Kristan’s books. Her brand of rom-com leans more toward bittersweet and less toward the wacky realm where mine tend to fall, which is another thing I love—studying the different approaches to comedy. Or you can forget all my overanalyzing crap and just enjoy the book, because it really is awesome.

So that’s the roundup of what’s on my nightstand right now. Er, among other things. How about you? Please share!


Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I agree with you. Writers who aren't reading are very frustrating.

Mary said...

I love that you're such an eclectic reader (and, dear god, how can you call yourself a writer if you don't like to read?!? What is WRONG with people?).

Anyway, I'm currently reading:
*Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm by Mardi Jo Link (I think I picked this up because she's now a badass living on a farm but it's pretty good!)
*Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick (a YA about a girl and three magical dresses)
*One for the Wicked by Karina Cooper (PNR with plenty of action and super-hot in he gets her off while sitting in the driver's seat *fans self*)

Unknown said...

I find that when I'm not reading, I can't write. For example, I've been trapped in Math Hell for the last few months as I finish up this semester of college, and I haven't had time to read. Well, I wanted to submit something for my monthly writing group. But when I tried to write...nada.

The two are irrevocably intertwined, and anyone who doesn't see that has no business writing!

Also? LOVE Kristan Higgins. She is SO GOOD!

Nan said...

So how does someone who doesn't read ever become a writer? Well, they probably don't. I've read voraciously since I was old enough to hold a book. My roundup right now is:
FIVE DAYS by Douglas Kennedy who is an auto-order for me. He writes so gorgeously, his words are a trip to heaven.

THE ETIQUETTE OF ILLNESS by Sue Halpern because my BFF has cancer and I want to know new ways I can help her.

SIMPLE ABUNDANC by Sarah Ban Breathnach because it's my daily meditative reading.

THE JEFFERSON KEY by Steve Berry--a great thriller, everyone needs to read thrillers.

Nan said...

Of course, I meant SIMPLE ABUNDANCE--sheesh!

Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

I usually have 4-5 books going at a time, too.

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

Just today I was reading while doing the laundry. I found myself in front of the washer, writing, as I was doing laundry. My thoughts were - she put the colors in the washing machine and poured in detergent. Oh no, she thought, I'm going to have to go and get more damn detergent before I can finish my effin laundry.
Evidence - reading fuels writing.

Unknown said...

Apart from the fact that I struggle to deal with people who 'don't read', I seriously cannot understand why anyone who doesn't read would want to become a writer - it just doesn't make sense (it would be like someone who hates flying wanting to be a pilot).

Personally, it was reading that made me fall in love with the written word and made me want to spend my life devoted to it. Recently I have started going further and further outside my comfort zone with reading (thank you Kindle!) and am so glad that I have (though to be honest, I have always been one of those people who will read whatever's in front of me).

Anonymous said...

Hey! I think I'm your 1000th blog follower. Do I get a prize for bringing this to your attention? ;)

Meghan Ward said...

Someone just mentioned Where'd You Go, Bernadette to me the other day. I'll have to check it out. I'm halfway through about eight books, too, although I don't know if I'll ever finish most of them.

Shalet Jimmy said...

Many books at a time, how do you manage?

Sierra Godfrey said...

Kudos to you Tawna for reading up on how to be a sensitive step parent. I'm a stepdaughter and while time has smoothed over the worst, this kind of preparation and intelligence will make your relationships with the kids strong and healthy and they'll love you as their family forever.

Love the other recommendations, and this post.