Bitch Blog

I’ve recently read several novels by a U.S.A. Today best selling author, and the quality of the writing/editing drove me nuts. How can someone who does these things be a bestseller? These are Regency Romance novels, if that helps put my complaints in context.

 

What’s wrong with these books?

Across novels, the following happens repeatedly.

 

  • The women step so fast that their skirts flutter about their ankles.
  • A curl is forever falling over her eye (or sometimes his).
  • The male love interest is invariably over six feet tall (in the early 1800s) with a chiseled body to rival Greek statues.
  • Someone is often willing to “trade her [littlest] finger for . . .”
  • Fingerfuls of brandy are splashed into glasses, which are usually then filled to the brim.
  • Oh, so often, something really isn’t well done.
  • Someone (usually male) often rubs a lock of hair between thumb and forefinger.
  • Stray locks are often tucked behind her ear.
  • People turn their heads so fast they wrench the muscles of their necks.
  • Tense characters grip the edge of a table or the arm of a chair hard enough to leave crescent marks. (Sometimes those crescent marks are on palms.)
  • People have thick dark hooded lashes.
  • When angry, characters often grit their teeth or clench their teeth so hard that pain radiates or shoots up their jaws.
And then there are the awkward or erroneous constructions.
 
  • his head reeling to the side
  • eldest vs. elder when there are only two
  • to not get
  • two very entirely different
  • where she was far safer to his senses
  • there, with but the risk of a patron passing by away from ruin, he kissed her
  • most unfavorable of light
  • to their respective box (or chair)
  • there is nothing unordinary
  • little expectations
  • still bore the blunt of his fist
  • as always, entirely, too cheerful
  • I came tonight at the bequest of my sister

So why is this a bestselling author?

 
  • The heroines are NOT universally gorgeous, perfectly proportioned, and virtuous.
  • Heroines are smart, active, resourceful, and brave.
  • Often minor characters in one book become the principles in subsequent books, offering continuity.
  • And there are usually breaches of the class lines of the period.
So maybe this is a case of readers reading for story, not for style. Oh, sigh.

Weird is Wonderful

different drummer vivian lawry
Perhaps you already know that I enjoy the odd, unusual, bizarre, and humorous. You surely know that if you’ve read Different Drummer! But it goes beyond my writing. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of weird stuff!

 

weird is wonderful
One really good overview of weird is this book by Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman, first published in 2004. In it, you can read about The Mutter Museum, part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which is filled with medical oddities. Such exhibits as outdated medical tools (e.g., a brain slicer), a wall of wax reproductions of eye injuries, and actual skeletons abound.

 

Open the book at random and you can read about The Paper House in Massachusetts, built in the 1920s, or The Goat Man of Prince George’s County.  The book is organized by topic, so whatever sort of weird phenomenon fits your story line, you can find several examples here.
weird is wonderful
The main drawback to this collection of weird is that if you want weird-by-location, that info is hard to come by. The index is alphabetical by name with the state location in parentheses, but there are no listings by state, per se. But not to worry! There are dozens of books out there to fill the geographical gap.

 

weird is wonderful
I have the books about the three places where I’ve lived most of my life, but there are tons more out there. In this particular series (in no particular order): Louisiana, Oklahoma, California, New Jersey (2 volumes), Kentucky, Michigan, Massachusetts, Indiana, the Carolinas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Washington, Illinois, Oregon, and New England, plus Hollywood, Las Vegas, and England.

 

weird is wonderful
Based on the three I own, I believe all are organized in the same way, so here again, it’s difficult to narrow the geographic location based on the index. Although there are a ton of books out there containing esoteric information, most of these are organized by topic, also. If you go to Amazon you will find whole sets of “strange but true” and “weird but true” books in which the book is devoted to a particular topic, such as sports, animals, the human body, history, etc.

 

But persevere! If geography is what you want, it’s out there.

 

weird is wonderful
These two books by Neil Zurcher and Sharon Cavileer are organized by geographic areas within Ohio and Virginia, respectively. I’m sure there are other states as well.

 

If you’re at all inclined to write and/or read about the offbeat, there’s a book for you!

 

weird is wonderful

Check Out These Online Literary Magazines

check online literary magazines

Summer is a big season for literary magazines to publish big work. Many publications take submissions in the spring and fall, and post their issues in the summer and winter. That being said, so many great literary magazines have put out new issues this season. Here are just a few:

What are your favorite online literary magazines? If you’re an author, what have been your favorite publications to send submissions?

If you’re interested in submitting to literary magazines, check out The Review Review‘s suggestions for writers working on submissions.

How Do You Read Now?

how read now
A friend sent me an excerpt from this article by Adam Kirsch, published August 3, 2018. Does this apply to you?
 
“Another way of putting it is that when Americans read, we mostly read for story, not for style. We want to know what happens next, and not to be slowed down by writing that calls attention to itself. According to one familiar indictment of modern literature, today’s literary writers are unpopular precisely because they have lost interest in telling stories and become obsessed with technique. In the 20th century, this argument goes, literature became esoteric, self-regarding and difficult, losing both the storytelling power and the mass readership that writers like Balzac, Dickens and Twain had enjoyed.”

 

Do you agree? Why or why not? Let me know, please.

The Changing Looks of Books

Once upon a time—and it wasn’t that long ago—books were pretty distinctive.

 

oh places youll go dr seuss
There were picture books for young children, often read to them, often teaching some life lesson.
wonder woman comics
[Source: IDW]
There were comic books, periodicals geared mostly for older children and teens, pretty much equal parts drawings and text. They were/are fast reads, typically 22 pages. Although all are called comics, many were action/adventure, super hero series. Advertisements abound.
harry potter sorcerers stone jk rowling
Then there were “real” books, hundreds of pages of text, complicated plots, and virtually never with pictures. (Oh, yes, I must give a nod to so-called coffee table books, in which photographs are their reason to be. Such books tend to be incredibly expensive. I don’t think their existence undermines my general point here.)

 

contract god will eisnercontract god will eisner
Graphic novels are cartoon drawings that tell a story and are published as a book. Will Eisner is typically credited with popularizing the label “graphic novel” after the publication of his book in 1978. By the mid 1980’s, the public was generally aware of that genre.
 
illuminae
 
Last week, at the beach, I was introduced to yet another emerging book format. Illuminae is bestselling science fiction that tells the story through a mix of realistic graphics, ships logs, text messages, lists of the dead, etc. Unlike cartoon drawings, these are ultra-realistic, from the use of acronyms and abbreviations right down to the occasional typo in text messages. Here are what some of those pages look like.
 
 
This format continues in two subsequent books in the series. Perhaps people are embracing the visuals. Th the very least, readers are not deterred. 
 
illuminae gemina obsidio
 
Another example of the changing looks of books is Night Film, touted as a gorgeously written, spellbinding literary thriller. 
 
night film pessl night film marisha
 
A friend read, recommended, and gifted the book to me. I haven’t read it yet, but just opening it at random I find large chunks of narrative and dialogue interspersed with realistic images representing everything from the results of on-line searches to purported magazine covers to newspaper articles.
 

castagnello drowning accidental

 
And just to add another little twist, at the end of the book one finds the following page. It begins, “If you want to continue the Night Film experience, interactive touch points buried throughout the text will unlock extra content on you smartphone or tablet.
 
night film
 
All the traditional formats of books are still out there. Cathryn Hankla’s lost places was published earlier this year and is completely in traditional text format. It is being very well-received.
 
lost places cathryn hanklalost places cathryn hankla
 
BOTTOM LINE: The visual appearance of books is evolving. I suspect it’s the massive moves in technology which allow such printing diversity. Readers have more choices than ever before. And so do writers!

Discover Richmond for Writers

discover richmond writers
That I am a fan of the Richmond Times Dispatch periodic publication Discover Richmond is no secret, given that I’ve written about it before. The recently published June/July 2018 issue is especially relevant for writers.

 

discover richmond writers
For mystery writers the “Back to class” article is right on target. Michael C. Leopold teaches a class at the University of Richmond titled “Catching Criminals with Chemistry”—which is a relevant bit of info in and of itself. Also, this short (2 p.) article mentions several examples of the chemistry-crime solving connection, including how chemistry reveals clues through analysis of gunshot residue and drug traces. Also, much to my surprise, fingerprint matching is still done by human experts, not computer images. AND the article raises interesting questions, such as, “Does this partial match give police the right to investigate potentially innocent family members—or collect their DNA samples—just because they are related to a felon in the database?” A short but excellent read.

 

discover richmond writers
Potentially relevant to any writer is the long article about the Joint Mortuary Affairs Center at Fort Lee, where the Army teaches those enrolled how to handle the human remains of soldiers—with dignity, reverence, and respect. These three words are emphasized in the article—which immediately leads to many possible story lines in which they are violated or ignored.

 

Most who come for training are enlisted soldiers and marines, but “officer-course attendees come from all of the military service, and from federal agencies such as the State Department and U.S. Park Police.”

 

discover richmond writers
On the other hand, if you want to know how it’s done properly, read on. For example, enrollees practice carrying a weighted casket-like case to master a dignified transfer ceremony. Interestingly, 95% of the Army’s mortuary affairs specialists volunteer for this duty. The Marine Corps requires its specialists to be volunteers. What sort of person would so volunteer? What’s the motivation?

 

Because the work is so “grisly and grueling” those working in mortuary affairs are given many opportunities for mental health and/or religious support to deal with the emotional strain. The article features real people, both trainees and teachers, and gives a concise summary of mortuary affairs in the military.

 

discover richmond writers
For those who write historical fiction and/or nonfiction—or whose plots include references to past events—this issue of Discover Richmond is a gold mine.

 

discover richmond writers
The Archive Dive is just that. It pictures interesting artifacts in various Virginia collections, from Colonial times to WWII. And speaking of Colonial times, I had never made a conscious connection between our English roots and witchcraft. And when considering witchcraft in the colonies, my mind went immediately to Salem, MA. But the earliest witchcraft charges in Virginia were made in September, 1626.

 

discover richmond writers
The article describes the case of Grace Sherwood, who did not drown during the water test, and therefore she was convicted and put into prison. Apparently Virginia courts were reluctant to kill witches, unlike Massachusetts where nineteen so-called witches were executed in one year (1692).
discover richmond writers
Having written a novel set in Bath County in 1930-1935, which included an element of bootlegging, I was particularly interested in “THE WETTEST SPOT ON EARTH” about moonshining during Prohibition in nearby Franklin County. All of this eventually led to national interest and a trial of 34 defendants, 55 unindicted co-conspirators with literally hundreds of witnesses. Much was written about liquor, jury tampering, and murder. It seems Sherwood Anderson wrote about it for Liberty magazine.

 

This article is full of interesting—and sometimes amazing—information. For example, considering the ingredients in moonshine, and equipment to make it, one expert testified that over a four-year period “Franklin—the county had a population 24,000 in 1935—imported 70,448 pounds of yeast, compared with 2,000 pound in the city of Richmond (population 189,000 during the same time frame).”

 

discover richmond writers
Similarly, for sugar, Anderson wrote, “There were said to be single families in the county that used 5,000 pounds of sugar a month.” And the county consumed more than 600,000 five-gallon cans, which would hold a total of 3,501,115 gallons of moonshine coming from this one county. Have I said enough to entice you to read this great article?

 

This issue of Discover Richmond includes many articles I haven’t even mentioned, from the Appalachian Trail to second-hand storestrumpet honeysuckle.

 

discover richmond writers
 
Read it. You’re sure to find something of interest and probably something of use for your writing.

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

The Great American Read

Great American Read
 
The flyer pretty much says it all. PBS has compiled a list of books—goodness only knows the criteria—and invites people to vote for their #1 between now and October 23. The list is pretty much alphabetical, which seems to be the only organizing principle.
There are children’s books, such as Charlotte’s Web, The Little Prince, and Harry Potter (the series).
great american read charlottes web
[Source: Scholastic]
Then there are sci-fi and fantasy, e.g., 1984, Jurassic ParkThe Lord of the Rings (series), and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
 
alices adventures in wonderland
[Source: Amazon]
Mysteries are well represented, including And Then There Were None, and Alex Cross Mysteries (series). It’s a mystery to me that Sherlock Holmes and Lord Peter Wimsey didn’t make it.
and then there were none agatha christie
[Source: Amazon]
The list includes old books, such as To Kill A Mockingbird, Little Women, Gone With the Wind,  and The Great Gatsby.
 
And then there are really old books such as Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Moby Dick. My personal favorite in this category is Pride and Prejudice. If a book’s popularity is judged by the amount of fanfiction it’s generated, then Pride and Prejudice must be the hands-down winner, for there are literally hundreds of those out there.
[Source: Tripping Over Books]
I’ve already indicated that the list includes series. Others areThe Chronicles of Narnia, Foundation, Game of Thrones, Hatchet, The Hunger Games, Left Behind, The Twilight Saga, and (my personal favorite) Outlander. I’ve written about Diana Gabaldon in the past so I won’t go into that series here, beyond saying it’s one of the greatest soap operas ever written. And I wonder why the Poldark series isn’t on the list.
chronicles of narnia book series
[Source: Idea Wiki]
A series which is on the list is Fifty Shades of Grey, and I can’t help wondering why. The writing is dreadful, the story line is cliché, and the sex scenes repetitive. I read them all, trying to figure out why they topped the best-seller lists for so long. It got to the point that I’d think, Oh, elevator sex again, and turn the page. Or, Another shattering orgasm, and roll my eyes. I finally decided that the appeal was that of Cinderella, updated with cell phones and private jets. The couple’s apparent obsession with each other might have made readers recollect the infatuations of their youth—or the youth they wish they’d had. I can’t imagine that the real appeal was the S&M aspect. One can find better online—for free—or so I’ve been told. Of course, all this is just my opinion. What’s yours?
50 Shades
BOTTOM LINE: Peruse the PBS list and vote!