Read What You Write

day without reading day without breathing

It’s important for writers to practice their craft and to set aside a little time every day (or every week) to do so. But people can’t write if they don’t read—especially within their genres. Have you taken a look to see which books are trending or bestsellers in your genre? If not, I’ve put together some lists for you. The lists on which these books show up are in parentheses next to their titles. The books are listed in no particular order.

Fiction

  • Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vandereh (Amazon)
  • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (Amazon)
  • The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen (Amazon)
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Amazon) (New York Times)
  • Girls of Glass by Brianna Labuskes (Amazon)
  • The Magnolia Inn by Carolyn Brown (Amazon)
  • The Killer Collective by Barry Eisler (Amazon)
  • What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon (Amazon)
  • Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan (Amazon)
  • The Beantown Girls by Jane Healey (Amazon)
beantown girls
[Source: Amazon]
still me jojo moyes
[Source: Amazon]
  • Every Note Played by Lisa Genova (Goodreads)
  • All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin (Goodreads)
  • Girls Burn Brighter by Shoba Rao (Goodreads)
  • There, There by Tommy Orange (Goodreads)
  • Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami (Goodreads)
  • An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green (Goodreads)
  •  Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (Goodreads)
  • Us Against You by Fredrik Backman (Goodreads)

reading quote

Nonfiction

  • The Sky Below by Scott Parazynski (Amazon)
  • Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (Amazon) (New York Times)
  • The Threat by Andrew G. McCabe (Amazon)
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (Amazon)
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama (Amazon) (New York Times)
  • The Broken Circle by Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller (Amazon)
  • How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck by Avery Breyer (Amazon)
  • The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind by Barbara K. Lipska (Amazon)
The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind 
[Source: Goodreads]
The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris
[Source: Amazon]
  • I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (Goodreads)
  • Fear by Bob Woodard (Goodreads)
  • Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon (Goodreads)
  • Not that Bad by Roxane Gay (Goodreads)
  • Fascism by Madeleine Albright (Goodreads)

reading quote

Poetry

  • Devotions by Mary Oliver (Amazon)
devotions mary oliver
[Source: Amazon]
The Witch Doesn't Burn in This One
[Source: Amazon]
  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Goodreads)
  • Useless Magic by Florence Welch (Goodreads)
  • The Dark Between Stars by Atticus (Goodreads)
  • Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart by Alice Walker (Goodreads)
  • Rebound by Kwame Alexander (Goodreads)
  • If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar (Goodreads)
  • Take Me With You by Andrea Gibson (Goodreads)

Remember: No matter your genre, don’t forget to read what you write!

read what you write

The Hair Has It

the hair has it
Hair has always been recognized as important: Sampson in the Bible, Cleopatra’s thick, black hair, the wigs worn by judges and others. It is one aspect of ourselves—our bodies—which we can control most, with relatively little effort, over decades. Much about hair is a choice. According to author and philosopher Alain de Botton, “We are using our hair to speak. We’re trying, through the syntax of colored protein filaments, to express key aspects of our soul—and to communicate some of the deepest truths about who we are.” So what do those choices say about a person—or character?

 

Of course, this is a topic that needs to be addressed separately for men and women, though there could be some overlap. Today, there is much more variety for women than for men.

 

What Women’s Hair Says

  • Side parting: compassionate, caring listener, big heart, empathetic and patient, no ulterior motives, realistic and reliable
  • Loose beach waves: embodiment of confidence, freedom lover, high energy, independent, comfortable around people but likes alone time

loose beach waves

  • Mid-length hair: practical, efficient, values common sense and committed to goals, work smart instead of hard
  • Blonde hair: approachable, friendly, good conversationalist, sexy
  • High ponytail: full of energy, sporty, problem solver, straightforward, good time manager, focused on things that truly matter, looks young
  • Polished high ponytail: goal-oriented, athletic, logical
  • Black hair: feminine, attractive, intelligent, confident, well-formed thoughts and convictions, classy, trustworthy

dark hair

  • Short bob: low maintenance, risk-taker, go-getter, professional looking, efficient and organized
  • Brunette: intelligent, self-sufficient, often consulted for advice, makes sound decisions
  • Red hair: fun, hate boredom, good sense of humor, ablaze with passion, temperamental and fiery, maybe fickle, or a drama queen
  • Bouncy curls: fun-loving, warm-hearted, celebrate uniqueness, courageous and outspoken, resists conformity; for black women, value roots, proud of who they are naturally

bouncy curls

  • Curly hair that is straightened: life is chaotic, seeks calm
  • Wavy hair: innovative and creative, high energy, strong willpower, emotional, easily gets hurt feelings, self-contained, monogamy might be a challenge
  • Thick hair: strong willpower, high energy, maybe stubborn, probably thick eyebrows, maybe lower sex drive
  • Thin hair: delicate, not into extreme sports, conserve energy
  • Straight hair that’s always curled: craves more fun and attention

curled hair

  • Medium-length hair, wash-and-go-style: good thinker, values logic, impatient, easily frustrated, values common sense, maybe competitive
  • Long hair, wash-and-go style: in touch with their feelings, romantic, creative, think hippies
  • Super short wash-and-go hairstyle: don’t want to fuss over things in life, less in touch with your feelings
  • High maintenance style: self-critical, anxious, worry about details, and/or drama queen who wants attention
  • Mumsy braid: put their own needs last

braided hair

  • Blunt cut: go-getter, to the point, values logic, driven and goal oriented
  • Layered cut: perfectionist
  • Unconventional hairstyle: fun, full of surprises, likes getting out of the box, carefree, creative, highly emotional, maybe an artist
  • Shaved head: super romantic, have a huge heart, sparkling personality
  • Hairline goes straight across: rebel, rule breaker or at least challenger, wants to make a positive change in the world
  • Irregular hairline: troubled adolescence, poor mothering
  • Rounded hairline: good girl, rule follower, well-mannered
  • Widow’s peak: sex appeal, mysterious charm, charismatic
crazy hair

What Men’s Hair Says

 
  • Man bun: practical, someone trying to pretend to be carefree, even though the look is contrived
  • Buzz cut: low maintenance
  • All bald: confident, he knows who he is, not afraid to embrace it; maybe thinks bald looks younger than gray

bald man

  • Same ol’ haircut forever: loves tradition, predictable, dependable, not going to change any time soon
  • The fade (whatever the top, a haircut where the hair on the sides and back taper gradually until there is no hair left on the skin): likely active duty or retired military, high and tight, disciplined; with a funky, spunky top, a with-the-times kind of guy, trendy

fade hair

  • The pompadour: worn by both women and men; for men, often combined with the fade, meaning a bit full of yourself, pay attention to detail, want to do things right the first time
  • Mr. Facial Hair: I’m a man’s man and I know it. Consider fancy mustache, tailored goatee, and full beard and the impression it makes
Note to writers: I found little on this topic relating actual hairstyles to personality tests. Virtually all of this is the impression these styles create. But for the writer, impressions are often what you are going for.

 

colored hair
[Source: MyWedding]

Shoe Story

University of Kansas researchers found that by looking at photos of the shoes people wore most often, their subjects could accurately tell a person’s age, sex, income, and political affiliation. But they could also accurately assign certain personality traits—e.g., people in practical comfortable shoes are perceived as more laid back and relaxed—and they are. Those with masculine shoes are more uptight. People with plain shoes that look new are more likely to be anxious and insecure.

 

Overall, researcher Omri Gillath found that by examining the style, cost, color, and condition of the shoes, participants were able to predict about 90% of the owner’s personal characteristics. 

 

  • Expensive shoes belong to high earners.
  • Flashy and colorful footwear belonged to extroverts.
  • Shoes that were not new but were spotless belonged to conscientious types.
  • Practical and functional shoes belonged to agreeable people.
  • Ankle boots reflected more aggressive personalities.
  • Uncomfortable looking shoes (surprisingly) were worn by calm personalities.
  • Brand new and well-kept shoes were worn by people with attachment anxiety (perhaps worry a lot about what others may think of them).
  • Shabbier and less expensive shoes marked liberal thinkers.
  • Boring looking shoes were worn by people who found it hard to form relationships BUT study participants couldn’t get that relationship.

What A Woman’s Shoes Say About How She’s Feeling

These are perceptions of current footwear, not what is worn most often.

 

  • Tall riding boots = Up for anything. Boots are a staple shoe when it comes to cold-weather fashion.
  • Ankle Boots = Sleek and fashion-conscious.
  • Ballet Flats = Cute.
  • Casual Sneakers = Lazy, yet productive.

  • Black Pumps = Sexy.
  • Wedges = Fun.
  • Peep-toes = Flirty.
  • Flat Sandals = Happy.

What a Man’s Shoes Say About Him

Again, these are perceptions, traits others attribute to the wearer, not validated by corresponding personality tests.
 
  • Suede ankle boots = masculine but not aggressive, detail-oriented
  • Driving mocs = knows style, a little high-maintenance
  • Black dress shoes = pulled together, high self-respect
  • Rainbow flip-flops = laid-back, doesn’t succumb to societal expectations
  • Timberlands = not-so-rough guy trying to look tough
  • Sperry boat shoes = traditionalist, follows dad’s footsteps, wears what he wore every summer growing up
[Source: eBay]
  • Merrells = his mom is still shopping for him
  • Air Jordans = serious sneakerhead, maybe too self-absorbed?
  • Lace-up oxfords = solid, responsible, means business
  • Retro Nikes = subtle but looking cool and trendy
  • Sandals with socks = lazy, looks silly, simply not acceptable
  • Vibram FiveFingers = marches to his own drummer
[Source: REI Co-op]
Usefulness to writers: (1) choose habitual footwear to reflect your character’s character; and (2) have your character choose footwear to create a particular impression.
 

Consider Coffee

Consider Coffee
In the U.S. 83% of adults drink coffee, and 64% drink coffee daily. In a study published in the Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal, it was found that 17 percent of Americans drink more than five cups of coffee a day. So? Chances are most if not all of your characters drink coffee. But it turns out, drinking coffee isn’t always the same—e.g., you can order coffee 25,000 different ways at Dunkin’ Donuts. Here are the high points of what coffee choices say about your character’s personality, from a study by clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula.
 
coffee beans
Drink Personality Traits The Light Side The Dark Side
Black coffee
  •  Old school
  •  Purist
  • Keep things simple
  • Patient
  • Efficient
  • Can be quiet and moody
  • Abrupt and dismissive
  • Sort of set in their ways
  • Resistant to making changes
Latte drinkers (folks who add milk/cream and sugar)
  • Comfort seekers
  • People pleasers
  • Open book
  • Like to soften the bitterness of life (like they soften the bitterness of coffee)
  • Generous with time
  • Will go out of their way to help others
  • Can get over-extended
  • Don’t always take great care of themselves
Frozen/ blended coffee drinks
  • Try lots of new things
  • Socially bold
  • Trendsetters
  • Childlike
  • Spontaneous
  • Imaginative
  • Fall for quick fixes
  • Don’t always make healthy choices
  • Can be reckless
Decaf/soy milk/ Very specifically ordered coffee
  • Like being in control
  • May be labeled selfish
  • Obsessive
  • Perfectionist
  • Very aware of their health and bodies
  • Monitor their health
  • Tend to make healthy choices
  • Overfocus on rules, control, and order
  • Overly sensitive
  • Tend to be worriers
Instant coffee
  • Traditional in some ways
  • Laid back
  • Procrastinate
  • Take life as it comes
  • Don’t get too lost in details
  • Too laid back
  • Put things off and may neglect basic health issues
  • Poor planners
Bear in mind that these are group data and may not apply to every individual. But if you are trying to create an image, know when you are going with the majority and when you are working against it.

 

coffee
 
A study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in 2014 found that heavy coffee drinkers were more likely to exhibit traits of alexithymia — aka, difficulty identifying and describing their emotions. What’s more, those who drank a lot of coffee were also more likely to have anxiety and be more sensitive to the negative consequences of getting in trouble. It’s important to note that this study used self-reporting methods and only included 106 participants.

 

Consider Coffee
Other research indicates that the only negative personality trait associated with excessive coffee drinking came after 10 cups. People who drink more than 10 cups of coffee a day are more likely than the general population to have a personality disorder. On the upside, the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Health Publishing reported that there are myriad health benefits to drinking a moderately large amount of coffee (say three to four cups per day: longer life expectancy, protecting against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer. Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression. For migraine sufferers, it can also help ward off a crippling migraine.
coffee beans

A Few Fun Facts that May or May Not Contribute to Your Story Line

Only two U.S. states produce coffee: Hawaii (Kona coffee), and more recently, California. Most of the world’s coffee comes from Brazil.

 

Coffee beans are technically seeds, the pits of the cherry-like berries found on the flowering shrubs. Coffee was originally chewed, and the cherries can be eaten as a food. The cherries can also be fermented to make a wine-type drink.

 

You can overdose on coffee. According to VOX, drinking about 30 cups of coffee in a very short time would be a lethal or near-lethal amount of caffeine. A video from AsapSCIENCE asserts that it would take 70 cups of coffee to kill a person weighing roughly 150 pounds.

 

Decaf doesn’t mean caffeine-free. Eight ounces of brewed decaf contains 2 to 12 milligrams of caffeine, compared to regular coffee which contains 95-200 milligrams. (A cup of cola has 23-35 milligrams of caffeine.)

 

instant coffee
Although coffee consumption has been around since about 800 A.D., there were periods when various movements to ban coffee were prominent, especially from 1500 through the 1700s, so be aware if you write historical fiction. Also, FYI, instant coffee has been around for nearly 250 years.
 
One cup of black coffee has only one calorie.

 

Coffee grounds can be used as an exfoliant, to make skin feel smoother and look brighter.

 

There’s a Starbucks at CIA.

 

We spend, on average, $1,110 per person per year on coffee.

 

Consider Coffee

The Perennial Student

vmfa studio school
Yesterday was the beginning of the spring semester fiction class at the Virginia Museum Studio School—and I was there! Why? I might say “Because I am a perennial student.” Depending on the dictionary, the definition of perennial is some form of lasting for an indefinitely long time: extending over several years, persistent, recurrent, etc. But that is a label, not a reason.
perennial student
It’s practically a cliché that writing is a lone activity. I find classes add the social dimension to writing. I never met a boring writer! I meet interesting people with similar interests and (usually) similar world views. Thus there is the potential to develop friendships.

Classes stimulate me to write in new directions. Yes, I write when I’m not in class, but it tends to get habitual, not to mention sporadic. In the last few weeks I have had three stories accepted for publication in 2019.

big muddy literary magazine
[Source: NewPages]
“Culture of Complaint and Commiseration” will appear in Big Muddy, the literary journal of the Mississippi River Valley. It is a story of women bonding over the struggles they face.

pretty owl poetry
“Rambling On About Uncle Leonard” will appear in Pretty Owl Poetry. This is a single sentence of 688 words that describes an old man and his context.

slab lit mag
[Source: The Rocket]
“The Doll” will appear in SLAB.  It borders on horror, beginning when a woman finds an empty baby stroller in the middle of the sidewalk, in the middle of winter, in the middle of the night.

Besides celebrating these acceptances, I mention them for two reasons: they are three very different pieces of writing, and each began with a prompt or assignment in a writing class.

Classes are structured to make me write regularly.The VMFA studio classes meet three hours per week for twelve weeks in the fall and twelve weeks in the spring, with shorter offerings in the summer. Tuition is a real bargain, when one looks at dollars per hour of instruction! Just saying.

Amy Ritchie Johnson
My teacher of choice for the last two years has been Amy Ritchie Johnson. Her in-class timed writing and assignments are tied to the basics of the craft. All three of the forthcoming publications mentioned above started in her classes.

When I write regularly, I also submit regularly, at least six times per year. This leads to lots of rejections, but without submissions there are no acceptances.

Most of my life has been spent in classrooms, as a student and/or teacher.Classes are my natural environment, the one in which I thrive. Classmates and/or teachers praising my writing is extremely gratifying. Every time I get something published, it’s like an A on my report card or a star on my forehead. With more than 50 publications in literary journals and anthologies, my writing life is sufficiently star-studded to make me smile.

Of course I’m a perennial student! Join me!