Need Help with Summer Reading?

Last week I wrote about some of the classic books that PBS suggested people read (or love) the most. But if you’re looking for a new book or genre to read, Goodreads has a list of suggestions for you.

[Source: Goodreads]
Goodreads has brought in Lori Hettler, the founder and moderator of The Next Best Book Club, to put together a couple of curated lists of summer reading challenges. The two lists are broken up into sub-categories to help you make it through the challenge.

List 1: Beginner Level

  • Summer-related tasks
  • Tasks to stretch your comfort zone

List 2: Expert Level

  • June Reads
  • July Reads
  • August Reads
  • What to read during any month to stretch your reading comfort zones

These two lists include broader challenges (i.e., reading a book of poetry) to more specific tasks (i.e., reading a book that features a yellow, green, or “sandy” cover).

This could be a great challenge for people who feel like their reading list is lagging or that they’re stuck in a rut, reading in the same genre.

Have you started this Goodreads challenge? What list are you using and what reading task are you most looking forward to?

need help summer reading

Cathryn Hankla Returns to Richmond

cathryn hankla returns richmond
That’s an announcement I’d dearly love to see! Last night was her first reading and signing in Richmond and I, for one, want more. She read from her two newest books. She started with a selection from lost places: on losing and finding home which was released in April.

 

cathryn hankla lost places
It is a memoir in essay form. But unlike the many trauma memoirs out there, this is more an exploration of her life in relation to people and places. She uses home in both a physical and metaphorical sense, and much of what she writes speaks to all of us.I bought the book only last night, and so have not read most of it, but it’s jumped to the top of my list!

 

cathryn hankla galaxies
GALAXIES is a poetry collection published last year. She ended the reading with several selections, including “Galaxy of Virginia History”—both humorous and appalling.

 

Cathy’s writing often elicits adjectives such as droll, urgent, inventive, graceful, passionate, compassionate, unpredictable, and imaginative. She’s published more than a dozen books of poetry, short stories, novels, and now essays. Choose one and become a fan! (As you can tell, I’m one already.)
cathryn hankla published works
Among my favorites are Learning the Mother Tongue and FORTUNE TELLER MIRACLE FISHCathy is a fabulous storyteller! Both of these collections evoke her Appalachian Mountain roots—vividly, poignantly, and endearingly.

 

I actually met Susan Hankla first. I won’t go into that now, having recently blogged about Susan twice. It was in one of Susan’s classes that a fellow student suggested I attend a writing workshop at Nimrod Hall. As many of you know, I’ve been returning to Nimrod Hall since 2004, and intend to do so this year as well.

 

Main building Nimrod Hall
The main building of Nimrod Hall
That is when and where I met Cathy. It was immediately apparent that we have much in common. Besides our shared Appalachian roots, we both have been college professors and chaired our respective departments, albeit her department is English and Creative Writing and mine was Psychology.
writing workshop nimrod hall
Cathy Hankla in our workshop
Cathy conducts helpful and enjoyable writing workshops—which is why I go back year after year. No doubt she is an excellent classroom teacher as well, judging by students of hers who attended last night’s reading. She’s great at both big picture critique and detail editing.
 
cathryn hankla land between blue moon poorwater
 
If you are more inclined to novels than short stories, consider these. And  BTW, she’s poetry editor of The Hollins Critic. Bottom line: whatever your preference, give Cathy Hankla a read. Or a listen, if Richmond is so lucky as to get her back!

 

cathryn hankla returns richmond

Tai Chi and Qi Gong for Your Characters

Tai Chi Qi Gong
World Tai Chi and Qi Gong Day was great!

 

The Opening Ceremony was an elaborate Lion Dance from Virginia Commonwealth University. Costumes for the Lion Dance Team and Panda were compliments of The Confucius Institute at William and Mary College. Great fun! It was long and strenuous—and I wonder what sort of college student would join such a team, and agree to perform during finals week.

 

Some of the demonstrations were more reminiscent of the martial arts origins of tai chi, including swords, spear, saber and push hands. A focus on the martial arts application might get your character into interesting situations.

 

But the most frequent application of both tai chi and qi gong is health. For example, one of the groups present was veterans, practicing at the VA Hospital in Richmond. They work with both physical recovery and PTSD sufferers. Do you have such a character?

 

Tai Chi Qi Gong
According to The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, more than 600 academic papers have reported the beneficial effects of tai chi and qi gong practice on physical and mental health. Among these are enhanced balance, flexibility, and agility; increased immunity, muscle strength and aerobic capacity; lower blood pressure, improved heart health, reduced inflammation, and weight loss. Arthritis is a case in point. One of the participants said that she’d been incapacitated by rheumatoid arthritis for years before taking up tai chi—and she moved beautifully.

 

Among the mental health benefits are lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety; increased mental clarity, focus, and positive thoughts; and a lower risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

 

The practice of tai chi is often called meditation in motion. Maybe it should be called medication in motion. And it is a life-long activity, low impact and slow but as good for you as cross-fit. Do any of your characters have health problems? Why not give them some?
 

Tai Chi

tai chi
Come on down! I’m going to be there, performing tai chi moves and qigong breathing with other members from my class. Participants and watchers are welcome. There’s to be a lion dance in the opening.

 

I got involved in tai chi because I wanted to try something new and my sister-in-law had been practicing tai chi for years and telling me I should do the same. Now, this sister-in-law tends to think that everyone should think and do what she does—for she does things for good reasons. This is pretty much the first time I’ve succumbed.

 

So, tai chi is a Chinese martial art. (For alternative spellings of tai chi, go online.) Tai chi is practiced both for its defensive training and its health benefits.

 

tai chi
Tai chi, rooted in Taoist and Confucian Chinese philosophy, has been found to be beneficial for meditative movement and for general health. Focusing solely on the movements of the form bring mental calm and clarity, good for general health and stress management. The three main aspects are health, meditation, and the martial arts.

 

tai chi
My tai chi teacher explains the martial arts application, but the focus is on slow movement, meditation, and health. We also practice qigong breathing. Seated tai chi moves are suitable for older people. Research shows that seated tai chi can make big improvements to a person’s physical and mental well being, including improvements in balance, blood pressure, flexibility, muscle strength, peak oxygen intake, and and body fat percentages.

 

tai chi
Which brings us back to World Tai Chi and Qigong Day. It is the last Saturday in April, annually. At 10:00 a.m. local time, people participate alone or in groups. The idea is that the wave of energy and goodwill will circle the globe, starting in the earliest time zones of Samoa and then traveling around the world until it ends with events in the last time zones of Hawaii, almost an entire day.

 

One of the stated goals of the day is to provide a global vision of cooperation for health and healing purposes across geopolitical boundaries, and also an appeal to people worldwide to embrace wisdom from all the cultures of the world. Who can argue with that?

 

tai chi
One breath… One world.

Shot in the Arm

shot arm
I spent Saturday afternoon at the Bon Air Library at Mysterypalooza 2018.  A great afternoon to reconnect with my Sisters in Crime/CVA. I chatted with people I didn’t know heretofore. But of course, the real meat of the afternoon was the panel—a great group of women with dozens of books in print.
mysterypalooza vivian lawry
Mary Burton moderated the panel deftly. The panel (not surprisingly) were articulate in discussing their varied pathways to publication. Some were traditionally published, some self-published, some both.
mysterypalooza 2018
Energy hummed through the room as the panelists assembled for the presentation. The audience contained many writers and aspiring writers, and topics covered included tips about agents, the pros and cons of each route to publication, and lots of insights into the varied methods of self-motivation and making time to write.

 

One particularly interesting tip: if you get stuck, take on the persona of one of the characters and write from that POV. I might not/probably won’t make it into the final book, but knowing your characters from the inside out makes the writing richer.

 

vivian lawry author mysterypalooza 2018
I wasn’t on the panel this time, but I was there to sign copies of Dark Harbor, Tiger Heart, and Mysteries Most Historical.

 

vivian-lawry-books
My book signing gigs generally yield very little money, and this was no exception. BUT, talking to attendees, whether they buy books or not, is always a treat. As some (many?) of you know, I collect carved wooden Santas, now numbered more than 450. And now I’ve actually met Santa and Mrs. Claus! They are frequently cited during the season in Williamsburg, VA.
shot arm
AND I know what they do in the off-season: they attend Mysterypalooza!

 

shot arm
In fact, Santa is also a writer! And his fiction has nothing to do with Christmas. Check out Bradley Harper’s historical fiction, entangled with Sherlock Holmes.

 

[Source: Bradley Harper]
The event was rife with useful tidbits. Check out the MFA program at Full Sail. Check out Stumble Upon. Check out the Independent Authors Association and what they might do for you.
mysterypalooza 2018
Last but not least, the next Sisters in Crime/CVA anthology is now officially open for submissions. Check the website for requirements if you are interested.

 

Bottom line: there’s lots of local writing talent. Check them out!
 

#PubforPR

Due to the overwhelming need in Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, the publishing community is coming together to raise money for relief efforts.

#PubforPR is an auction put together by hundreds of authors, editors, illustrators, and literary agents, who have donated time and goods for you to bid on in order to raise money for those affected by the hurricane. All funds raised will go directly to Unidos por Puerto Rico and ConPRmetidos, two carefully vetted local charity organizations.

Please consider bidding on some of these items, or simply donating to one of these charities (the link is below). After the tragedies in Texas, Nigeria, Florida, Mexico, and now Las Vegas, it’s time to help in whatever way we can.

Missing Nimrod

A year ago, I attended one of my favorite writing retreats: the writers’ weekend at Nimrod Hall. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it this year, and I missed the camaraderie and stimulation I find at Nimrod. I recommend my readers find a good residential writing workshop; in addition to the community of writers you’ll meet, you’ll also receive great feedback on your writing. Below is a blog post from this time last year, telling a little about Nimrod and the programs it offers. I hope you’ll check out the opportunities they have!


For many years I’ve traveled to Nimrod Hall in Millboro, Virginia, for their annual writing retreat. Nimrod has inspired several of my stories and given me hours of valuable writing time.

Nimrod Hall main buildling
Nimrod Hall

Last year I kept a travel log of my two weeks at Nimrod. I shared everything from packing my bags…

Packed for Nimrod Hall Writers' Workshop

…to the wild women writers I met there.

women writers at Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program
2015 Week One writers at Nimrod Hall Writers Workshop
Note card showing women standing in a stream. Text reads, "We arrived at Nimrod with no baggage"
Note card by Susannah Raine-Haddad

As I prepare to depart, I look forward to my misty morning walks,

Nimrod Hall Writers' Workshop misty lane

and family-style meals with writer friends,

Nimrod Hall Writers' Workshop writers at lunch around table
2015 writers at lunch
Nimrod Hall writers lifting fake wedding cake at breakfast table
Who but Nimrod Writer Women would be passing around a paper mâché wedding cake at breakfast?

and uninterrupted writing time.

"Do not disturb" sign on door knob
No writer is ever disturbed between breakfast and lunch–and seldom otherwise.

This year I will share my travel log on my Facebook page. I hope you’ll join me there.

Happy writing!

view of Cowpasture River near Nimrod Hall during walk
Cowpasture River near Nimrod Hall during my morning exercise

Nimrod Hall, established in 1783, has been providing summer respite from everyday stress since 1906. It has been operating as an artist and writer colony for over 25 years. The Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program is a non-competitive, inspirational environment for artists to create without the distractions of everyday life. 

Celebrating the 4th of July!

american flag decoration
From early childhood—before I was even old enough to know what the holiday commemorated—before I could even say “independence”—the 4th of July meant a family gathering. Given that my mother was one of thirteen children, that meant a BIG family gathering. It would be a potluck, with tons of food before dark, kids playing tag and catching fireflies, men playing penny-ante poker and drinking beer, women gossiping and keeping the food table laden.

 

fireworks
We typically gathered at one of several relatives’ farms. Food was under the trees. And after dark there were fireworks—illegal fireworks. The children had to stand way back, but at least we could hold sparklers.

 

independence day sparkler
The next time I got into a 4th of July tradition was when I moved to Ashland, Virginia, self-styled The Center of the Universe.

 

ashland center of universe
The Ashland parade goes a fair way toward being unique. Besides the old-time vehicles, military marchers, and onlookers dressed in red, white, and blue, they often have a kazoo band, Miss Liberty in costume, and people on horseback. Then there is the Bicycle/Tricycle Brigade, and Uncle Sam.

 

But the truly unusual aspects (IMHO) are the Lawn Chair Brigade…
and The Bassett Brigade.
basset brigade ashland
When the parade is over, everyone gathers on the lawn of the Hanover Arts and Activities Center to hear the community band play patriotic music.

 

ashland community band
This is also the time for food—brought from home or bought from vendors. AND to find out who won the apple pie baking contest!

 

This year, now that I am living in Richmond, I’ll celebrate by watching John Adams and family, Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and Thomas Jefferson (impersonators, of course) share memories of 1776 meetings.

 

ashland presidential impersonators
And then there will be a performance by Williamsburg Musick Fife & Drum.
That will leave most of the day free to read—maybe my latest Gabaldon purchase.

 

seven stones stand fall diana gabaldon
Whatever you do, see, hear, or read, enjoy your day of Independence!
 
american flag decoration