Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: Judy Blume

The author of twenty-nine books, Judy Blume, is an author who is no stranger to writing about complex subjects that young adults encounter in their everyday lives.  She surprisingly is also a member of the Banned Books Club.  Like the late Beverley Cleary, Judy Blume’s books were a library staple when I was growing up. Her stories continue to engage and entertain readers today.

Blume was 27 when she began to think of writing as a career.  After two years of rejections, she finally published her first novel, The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo, in 1969.  Other books for children and young adults include: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970), Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1972), Blubber (1974), Freckle Juice (1978), Superfudge (1980), and Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson (1993).  

Blume has also written four adult-centered novels, collaborated on two short story collections, and authored three non-fiction books.  

In the 1980s, Blume’s young adult novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, was targeted for censorship by schools due to its openness about mensuration and religion.  The book has been on the American Library Association’s Top 100 most frequently challenged books since the 80s, ranking 60th. In 2000, the book almost made it off the list, dropping to 99th.  The latest 2010-2019 list has Are You There God? off the top 100.

Check out the latest list to see if books you’ve read are on it, HERE

Learn more about Judy Blume and her books at her OFFICIAL WEBSITE.  

Below are a few interviews with Blume as she talks about her life, her writing, and dealing with censorship.

Enjoy!

Back in two weeks with another great author!

Book Review Tuesday: Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

It takes a special type of book to get me to drop everything when I get home from work and start reading.  Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky was one of these books.  The hardcover version is 705 pages, and I read it in five days.

I was hooked from the first chapter, and was driven by a need to know what would happen next, which is the hallmark of a solid suspense thriller.  Imaginary Friend manages to keep you guessing and leaves you reading until 3 or 4 in the morning, desperately fighting sleep to finish the next chapter.  

It’s on my list of books I want to read again.

Below is the review I wrote after I finished it last year:

Reading this book was an amazing experience. I bought it last year, having no idea what it was about, never reading the dust jacket (expect for a brief skim), and then picking it up off my bookshelf a week ago and diving in. 

And I enjoyed every minute of reading this book.

Chbosky creates a world that envelopes you in its mystery and suspense. Imaginary Friend felt like a Stephen King novel (an author I love!), and I look forward to his next book in this genre.

I 100% won’t buy it and wait almost a year to read it. It’s buy it, read it next time!

If you’re a fan of Stephen King, suspense thrillers with the supernatural twist, and complex stories that deliver, I highly recommend Imaginary Friend.

What did you think of Imaginary Friend?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Writing Tip of the Week: Giving Yourself Permission as a Writer

Creativity begins within the privacy of our minds.  We all have thoughts, ideas, plans, goals, and dreams, but not everyone takes those elements and artistically expresses them.  Whether through writing, art, dance, song, or film, creative expression can be a hurdle that prevents many from getting their vision out of their head and into a tangible space.

But why?  Why do creative people often have hang-ups and issues taking what they know in their heads and hearts is a good idea and making it more than a passive internal flirtation with their Muse?  

I think it comes from fear.

Fear that what’s in your head won’t translate to the page on the first try.  Fear that people won’t enjoy or understand your intentions with the creative work you’ve molded and shaped for months or years.  Fear of rejection, of failure, of the unknown.

But you haven’t written a word yet, so how do you know any of the above will happen?

You don’t.

And you won’t know if it will be a success or not until you give yourself permission to get the ideas out of your head.  

Today, I’m going to offer up five statements for you to think about the next time you’re hesitant about bringing an idea to life.  Remember that this initial version of the idea is for your eyes only. Take the fear out of the equation. Know that you and your words are in their own Circle of Trust.

Now, I encourage you, whenever doubt creeps in, or fear enters your mind as you embark on a new creative endeavor, that you say one or all of these statements to yourself to help move your forward in your creative journey:

I Give Myself Permission to…Write Badly with Pride

You can’t edit what doesn’t exist, and every writer has to start their story at some level of quality, so don’t be afraid to write crap in exchange for knowing you can go back and fix it later.  The key is to get the ideas on the page so they can evolve.  

Be proud that you wrote them down and now can make them better.

I Give Myself Permission to…Change Things in the Story That Aren’t Working

Outlines, Beat Sheets, Notecards, and other forms of structuring your story are great but don’t marry yourself to what you planned out 100%.  Give yourself the ability to go on tangents and explore new possibilities, new story arcs, and new character developments.  

A story is a road trip.  You’re going from Point A to Point B, but a few detours to some unknown places can always add to the adventure.  Allow yourself to travel these pathways and see what happens.

I Give Myself Permission to…Challenge Myself as a Writer

If you ever wanted to explore writing in a new genre or medium, do it.  If you write short stories but want to write a screenplay, learn what it takes to format and create a 110-page screen story and make it a reality.  If you are a novelist who writes romance and want to try writing horror, go for it.  

Experimenting and challenging yourself as a writer gives you the ability to stretch your creative muscles. Along the way, you may pick up some writing advice from this other area that can help strengthen the genre or medium you are comfortable in.  

This can also be used as a writing exercise. You challenge yourself to write a paragraph without using a certain commonly overused word like ‘that,’ or even challenging yourself to write stronger dialogue or description.  

I Give Myself Permission to…Accept Constructive Criticism as Helpful

The word ‘Constructive’ is the key here.  If it’s advice or notes that can make your writing stronger, or assist in making your future work better, then add that to your toolbox.  If it’s not something that will help you now or in the future, ignore it. 

I once gave notes to a woman on her screenplay.  She had a Russian character who was always drunk on Vodka.  I said that this was a cliché, and she should consider changing some aspect of the character to make him less of a stereotype.  Her response: “F-ck you!”  Needless to say, that was when we parted ways because this was the least of the scripts issues, and if she was unable to handle something fairly benign, I knew my other notes would not be helpful, either.  

My goal was to help make her script stronger and better, but she was focused on the criticism and not the constructive aspect.  When you receive a note on your work, divorce yourself from being its creator.  Ask yourself if you were reading this as an outsider, would you have the same comment or question?  More than likely, yes. 

Remember: Constructive = Helpful.

I Give Myself Permission to…Have Fun When Writing!

No matter what you write, you have to enjoy the process, enjoy the journey, and enjoy what you’re working on.  It’s reflected in your work.  If you had a good time, invested in the characters and their story, laughed at their jokes, cried with their tragedies, and held your breath while they were in peril, you can bet the audience will do the same.  

Passion can transfer from the page to the reader or from the screen to the viewer, and the more heart and energy and love and fun you put into it, the greater reward it is for the audience.  

If you don’t like your story, figure out why and change it for yourself.  Write the story you want to write, that you want to see, that you want people to enjoy.  

I hope these statements or affirmations give you the permission your need to move past those blocks that plague all writers, new and experienced.  You have a story to tell.  Don’t let fear stop you from making it a reality.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Book Review Tuesday: Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood by Danny Trejo; with Donal Logue

I was very excited to find a copy of this book at Barnes & Noble while I was on vacation this past summer. When I heard about it, it automatically was on top of my to-read list for 2021. Here’s my quick review of Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood:

Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood is an absolute must-read. Even if you’re not a fan of Danny Trejo’s work as an actor, his life story is an inspirational journey that everyone can learn from. Trejo has literally been to the depths of hell and back. His struggles with addiction, his multiple stints in prison, and the issues he faced from both situations evolved into one of the greatest human success stories.

I’m a huge fan of Danny Trejo. He was terrifying in Con Air, was excellent in Machete, hilarious in commercials, and honest in interviews. He’s the real deal, a man who isn’t ashamed of his past and is willing to help others overcome their problems and find success in their own lives. 

I highly, highly recommend Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood. It’s a quick read, but definitely a memorable one.

Check out an interview Trejo did about the book below:

What did you think of Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood? Leave a comment and let me know!

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: Dean Koontz

While I’ve heard his name before, I read my first Dean Koontz novel earlier this year, Strangers (1986).  Strangers is a mix of suspense and sci-fi.  It was definitely an engaging book with interesting characters and an intriguing twist.

Koontz is a prolific suspense author whose first novel, Star Quest, was published in 1968.  Since then, Koontz has written well over 100 books, including the Odd Thomas series, Frankenstein series, and Jane Hawk series.  While known mainly for suspense, Koontz writes in many genres, including thriller, horror, and satire.

Koontz wrote several novels under pseudonyms, including John Hill, Deanna Dwyer, K.R. Dwyer, and David Axton.  He used the names “after several editors convinced him that authors who switched back and forth between different genres invariably fell victim to ‘negative crossover,’” which could affect readership from established and new readers.  The last novel he wrote under a pseudonym was 1987’s Shadow Fires under the pen name Leigh Nichols. 

I definitely want to read more of his books, and my interest is piqued by the Frankenstein series.  

To check out his Official Website, click HERE.

Check out the interviews below where Koontz talks about his career, writing, and his varied works.

Enjoy!

Back in two weeks with another great author!

Quotation Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dean_Koontz

Book Review Tuesday: The Institute by Stephen King

The Institute by Stephen King grabbed me and refused to let go until the final pages were read. I will admit that there were moments the suspense got so intense that I had to walk away from the book just to prepare myself for what the unknown in the upcoming chapters.

Nevertheless, I persisted and finished the book, and below is my review:

Stephen King is a master craftsman when it comes to storytelling. His books have been a staple of my yearly reading for over two decades, and I never tire of the tales he tells.

The Institute was a unique King reading experience. Rarely do I come across a book filled with so much suspense, intensity, and emotion that I have to take breaks to prepare for the next chapter. This was one of those books. 

Part YA novel, part suspense-thriller, and part supernatural thriller, The Institute is King at his best. I loved every page, every chapter, and every character. Each element was expertly crafted and worked beautifully.

I rarely read books more than once, but this is definitely one I will read again.

I highly, highly recommend The Institute by Stephen King.

Have you read The Institute by Stephen King? What did you think? Leave a comment and let me know!

Writing Tip of the Week: Finding a Beta Reader

Writing can be a very personal and intimate experience.  Your internal thoughts, feelings, ideas, and actions leave your brain and settle onto the page.  If you’re writing in a private journal or diary, these thoughts and feelings can remain secret, with no possibility of them being displayed publicly.

But if you’re writing for people to eventually read or see your work in the public sphere, it’s essential to have people around you to read and critique your work before it is out for the world to see.  Consider these people a buffer, a set of eyes that can see your work from a different perspective, and someone who isn’t afraid to give you feedback that will make them work better.

A Beta Reader is an excellent resource for anyone to have in their writing toolbox.

What Exactly Is a Beta Reader?

A Beta Reader is the first fresh set of eyes to read your work and offer constructive feedback.  Once you are confident that you have a completed novel, non-fiction book, short story, play, or screenplay, a Beta Reader is an independent third party that can help you make the work better. 

This person can help point out story problems, plot holes, continuity problems, or other aspects that don’t work.  At the same time, they are an ideal audience to see if what you wished to convey on the page was successful.

A Beta Reader’s feedback should be helpful, pointed, specific, and detailed.  If what they tell you is too vague or generalized (“I don’t like your hero, Mark, but I don’t know why”), then the information isn’t helpful.

Beta Reader vs. Editor

A Beta Reader is for the creative side of writing (story, plot, continuity), while an Editor looks for technical issues (spelling, grammar, syntax, word choice).  Both are essential to the writing process, but each has their own skills to contribute.

Obviously, a Beta Reader can find spelling or grammar errors and an Editor can give you feedback about story or character issues, but each does serve a different purpose in the grand scheme of things.

So, how can you find a Beta Reader that fits your needs?

Who Do You Know?

Is there someone in your circle of friends that likes your writing?  Someone supportive that takes an interest in what you’re working on but offers constructive advice if asked?  Do you have a friend with opinions about films and TV shows that you respect?  This might be the person to ask.

You want someone open-minded, who likes the genres you write in, and can focus on the specific areas you want them to provide feedback on and give comments and suggestions that strengthen the work.

Obviously, being a Beta Reader is a time commitment on the person’s part.  After all, you’re asking them to read a 500-page manuscript or a 110-page screenplay, so there are hours of work ahead of them.  If you have someone in mind, ask them if they would be interested in reading your work and giving you feedback.  

If they say yes, that’s great.  If not, and you’re out of people you can trust and rely on, there are Beta Reader services you can pay to help you out.

So, what about my mom or my brother-in-law?  Could I use them as a Beta Reader?  

Well, I suggest that you…

Look Outside Your Family

Unless you can compartmentalize and keep your writer life and personal life separate, I recommend finding a Beta Reader outside your family circle.  I feel this is a wise move since you don’t want to get false praise that negatively impacts the work, and you also don’t want to get criticism that leads to a rift in the relationship.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use a family member, but I’d like to think that keeping the Beta Reader outside the family is a good way to stave off future trips to a family therapist or a segment on Dr. Phil.

Start With A Sample

But let’s say you have a friend or former coworker who is on board and wants to help.  Great.  If they haven’t read anything of yours for a while, give them a sample of your work.  As them to focus on one or two things (i.e., description and pacing), and see what they come back with.

Don’t just toss the pages out there and say good luck; give them specifics about what you want them to look for.  Based on their feedback, you’ll be able to tell if they are a good fit.  If you have to pump the information out of them or they are afraid to be critical, this isn’t a good match.  At the same time, if their feedback is too harsh, it won’t work, either.  

The key is to find a healthy balance where the feedback you receive strengthens the weaknesses, and the positive comments keep you motivated to get onto the next draft.

To Pay or Not to Pay?

I pay my Beta Reader for his time.  It’s the right thing to do, and it also makes him take the job seriously.  He’s been hired to do a job, deliver what is asked of him, and I give him a logical deadline to read the manuscript (a couple weeks at least), take notes, and have a meeting with me to discuss his feedback.  

If you take it professionally, your Beta Reader will, too.  

Patience is a Virtue

It may take time to find someone who has the time to assist you during this process.  As I said above, it’s a time commitment on their part, and you are entrusting them with your manuscript with the hope that their feedback will make it better.  If you’re not happy with the feedback you get from someone or feel it’s lacking, you can always look for someone else.

A Beta Reader is a part of your team.  Just like with dating, sometimes it takes a while to find the right person.  But once you do, you know you’ve found your ideal match. 

All writers need feedback.  All writers need a trusted source of constructive criticism and positivity.  Finding a Beta Reader that meets these criteria can be a great motivator to keep the words flowing since you have a trusted person available that can help make you a better writer.

Do you have a Beta Reader?  What have been your experiences?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Book Review Tuesday: The Great Mortality by John Kelly

Last year, as COVID-19 swept around the world causing lockdowns, quarantines, and closures, I was intrigued by pandemics and epidemics of the past.  This led me to looking for a book about the Black Plague aka The Black Death, which swept through Europe in the 14th century.

Below is my review of The Great Mortality by John Kelly:

A compelling read about what was the worst pandemic in recorded human history, I felt that The Great Mortality put our current situation into a greater perspective; one that makes me appreciate the advancements in sanitation and medicine that have happened since 1347. 

What I found most fascinating is that despite humanity’s technological advancements, people responded to the Black Death in parallel ways that people are responding to COVID-19. From protests and scapegoats; to those who felt they wouldn’t be affected; to those who were scared out of their minds, it’s pretty amazing to consider that human behavior hasn’t evolved one bit, even if we think we are more evolved in 2020. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an insightful read about the Black Plague and its many aspects.

Have you read The Great Mortality or another book about the Black Plague?  What are your thoughts?

Back next week with another book review!

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: Grady Hendrix

While I was on vacation this summer, I bought The Final Girl Support Group by horror author Grady Hendrix, intrigued by its cover and premise.  I had never read anything by Hendrix before, but I was immediately drawn into the story and the myriad twists that came along the way.

While Final Girl is his latest novel, Hendrix has also written many other novels, including My Best Friend’s ExorcismWe Sold Our Souls, and The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires; and the non-fiction books Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction, and Dirt Candy: A Cookbook(which he co-authored with his wife).

Hendrix was born in Charleston, South Carolina and worked in a library before becoming a professional writer.  He has written articles for PlayboyThe New York Post, and The New York Sun.  He’s also a screenwriter, a playwright, and writes short stories.

Check out his official website HERE.  

Below are some interviews with Grady Hendrix where he talks about his works and his process.  

Enjoy!

Back in two weeks with another great author!

Book Review Tuesday: Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard

As I’ve mentioned before, I love reading! Over the past few years I’ve been a member of Goodreads.com where you are able to write mini reviews of books you’ve read. Starting today, I’d like to share my reviews with you and see what your thoughts are on these books if you’ve read them as well.

Today’s book review is Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard:

Abraham Lincoln is known for many things: 16th President of the United States; masterful orator; emancipator of slaves; vampire hunter. In Courting Mr. Lincoln, we get to see a different side of Lincoln in the context of a historical romance inspired by the real-life correspondence between Lincoln and his life-long friend, Joshua Speed. 

I had heard about this novel’s premise and was intrigued. I was not disappointed. This is an exquisitely written story, and a masterful piece of historical fiction that revolves around the love life of one of the most popular presidents in U.S. history. 

Courting Mr. Lincoln was an enjoyable read and I highly recommend it.

What did you think of Courting Mr. Lincoln?

Back next Tuesday with another book review! Happy reading!