Tag Archives: reading

A Reader, First

By Nichole Jarnagin

I think every writer remembers books from their childhood that were life altering; books that made us love reading, long before we ever became writers. Let me start by saying I’m probably the odd-ball here. As a child, I didn’t immediately love reading. I was active (probably hyperactive) and I had far better things to do than to SIT STILL and read a book. Yet somehow, a handful of books made it past my limited attention span and pickiness in general. In particular, three books changed my life. They had such a profound influence on me as a reader that I’ve never forgotten them. I still love them. In fact, I bought used copies off of Amazon with the exact same covers—just like the ones I used to have.

I NEEDED to eat cinnamon toast every time I read The Trouble with Miss Switch by Barbara Wallace Brooks. I yearned to scientifically prove that my teacher was secretly a witch. I was enthralled and maybe even jealous of Rupert P. Brown’s science experiments, his eggshell collection, his methodical deductions and his talking guinea pigs.

Like Lorna and Jamie, I too dreamed of living in a farmhouse called Windy Hill (The Ghost of Windy Hill by Clyde Robert Bulla) with its six bedrooms, a springhouse and a tower for spying. I wanted to toss coins to Bruno who begged on the side of the road and I was afraid of his mean father. I loved being scared—just enough—wondering who or what the ghost might be.

Whenever I’d read The Boy Who Saw Bigfoot (Marian T. Place) I’d wish for my own Bigfoot sighting. I’d get lost in the Washington woods, hiking and fishing with a woman named Sara Brown who wore flannel shirts and loved her foster kid, Joey.

While these books are somewhat obscure and pretty darn old (and more than likely came from a garage sale) they are part of me. As a writer, I think I revert to those things that originally intrigued me as a reader—mystery, humor, adventure, believing good would prevail. And even though it’s silly, every once in a while when I crave that time in my life when things were simpler, I reread one of my favorites and remember how good it felt to be nine.

What books from your childhood have left an imprint on you? How have they impacted you as a writer?

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Feed Your Writer-Brain

I’m sure most writers have experienced this: You mention to someone that you’re writing a novel. They reply, “Oh, I’ve been thinking about writing a book. I have some really great ideas.”

My most recent experience with this came from a distant relative who wanted to write a non-fiction history book. When I asked if he read much in the genre, he replied, “No.” When I asked if he’d looked at the online platforms of other writers in the genre, I was met with a blank stare.

What it boils down to is he had lots of enthusiasm for his own ideas, but had done nothing to educate himself on current writing trends or the opinions of others. He was writing from a void. That’s no way to succeed in the business of publishing these days.

In order to find success, whether in fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose, screenwriting or short stories, you have to feed your writer-brain.

What exactly does that mean?

Well, first and foremost, it means you need to read. You need read a lot. Fill your spare moments with a good book or a good article. Read a variety of genres, and once you focus in on the genre you want to try writing, narrow your reading, too. Read what’s popular and critically acclaimed in your genre. Read old favorites from the genre, and take a chance on first time authors. If you don’t know the marketplace, you’ll have a hard time finding a place in it for your own work. Whether you follow the traditional agent/editor/publishing house route, or aim for self-publishing, filling your writer-brain with knowledge of the marketplace is going to give you a huge boost.

Additionally, reading will help you internalize good technique. If you get used to reading good dialog, you’ll be more aware of when your own dialog is falling flat. If you find some authors who write amazing sensory description, you can learn from them to improve your own. And don’t give up reading outside your genre – sometimes you can learn tricks of technique from authors outside your genre that will help your writing stand out from the pack when it comes to your own genre. Plus, you never know what might spark a moment of inspiration that leads to a new story, even if it’s just a random article or a non-fiction book you picked up on a lark.

If you like to multitask while doing household work or exercise, like I do, you can feed your writer-brain by listening to audiobooks or watching the types of films and television shows that feature interesting plotting, fascinating characters, or quality writing. Usually stick to scripted works – ones that writers worked hard to bring to life. You can generally learn more from those shows than from “reality” television. Unless “reality” tv or news programs are the ones that spark your creativity.

Ultimately, you need to learn what feeds your writer-brain best. Seek out that brain-food, and consume it as often as possible.

In an era in which information and entertainment is just a few keystrokes away, you can’t expect to write in a void and succeed.

Don’t think of all this reading as time taken away from your writing. That writer-brain needs nourishment and inspiration to do its work properly, and this is how you feed it.

By Jocelyn Nash Carlin


Survey Part 1

I started reading on an adult level almost as soon as I started reading. By age seven I had discarded the children’s books at the library and was reading almost entirely adult books. (At the age of ten I was shocked to realize that there was a section in the library for older children, what would now be considered YA. My fascination lasted about a week.)

Even then, the bookshelves were crowded with things I don’t want to read. I ran into a lot of things I wasn’t prepared for and didn’t understand. I don’t want to have to worry about this happening when another child picks up one of my books.

At this point, most of what is published (I won’t way “written” because many things are written but not published) is in the category that I would hesitate to purchase, if only because my nieces and nephews peruse my bookshelves. Sex, profanity, and graphic violence seem to be pervasive.

I know there is a market out there for “clean” adult fiction. I know it because I’ve talked to people who have told me so, and I would purchase more books if I could be certain they were safe for a child who picked them up (even if they wouldn’t understand the themes).

So here are my questions. 

1   Would you read more books if they were clean (by the above definition)?

2   Would you buy more books if you didn’t have to worry about your children / siblings / nieces and nephews finding them on your book shelf?

3    Do you hide some books because you don’t want people to know you’re reading that?

4    Do you buy e-books because you can lock (or hide) your e-reader?

5    Do you ever alter what you write (or not write certain topics) because someone you know might read it?

My answers:  Yes, Yes, Yes, Would if I had one, Yes


The Economics of Reading

I have to admit I’m addicted to second-hand bookstores.  I’m a bookaholic, and they tell me that acknowledging the problem is the first step…except that I don’t want to recover.  The second-hand bookstores allow me to read and re-read, then go back and find more at a fraction of the price of a new book.

But there’s a problem with this, one which I fully acknowledge (and I also acknowledge that I’d fix it in my own life if I had more money to spend on books).

Over the years I’ve watched various authors rise and fall, and some few of them rise again.  Those that do “rise again” usually go through an interesting cycle.

Take this quote, from the author’s note to one of my favorite books:

“…having committed those stories—and seen them published, back in the late 80’s—we were told by our publisher that the numbers weren’t there.  No one had read our books, that means in publish-speak.  And, since no one had read the first three, the outlined fourth—and the proposed fifth—would not be needed.”

I read their books for the first time in the late 80’s, and I am still reading them.  The first I got from the library, but when I went to the bookstores, even the used bookstores I couldn’t find it again.  I finally found a copy about 10 years later, used (as in totally trashed) and I read it until it fell apart.  I also have the other books in the series, although on several I have multiple copies because the only copies on some that I’ve been able to find were in compilations that contained books I already had.

According to the publishers their books hadn’t been read and yet when I first searched on the internet the only copy I could find (a used paperback) was being sold for $40.  Whether the books were popular or not, all the evidence points to something that I have seen with other books.

If a book is really good, but not touted as such by the media, many times the book is passed from person to person, read and re-read until it falls apart simply because other copies are not available.  Fifty people may read one copy, and all of them enjoy it, but the book was only purchased once so the publisher really has no idea just how many people are reading it or interested.  Those same copies (those that survive the original purchase) then go to used book sellers, who sell the book and the whole process begins again.  But the publishers won’t take the chance of printing more copies because “the numbers aren’t there.”  i.e., no one is buying the book new, off the shelf.  If I’d been able to get my hands on a new copy, I would have purchased it.

Many, many people, for whatever reason, choose to go to used book sellers or libraries.  I have to admit I’m one of them.  But if I like a book enough to purchase it (meaning it’s good enough to read multiple times without getting tired of it) then I should really purchase a copy of my own and support the authors I like.

Otherwise, the market will just get saturated with authors I don’t like.

Hm.  Is that what happened?

Disclaimer 🙂  :  This is not an advertisement.  I have no financial interest in Steve Miller and Sharon Lee (the above mentioned authors) except for having purchased many of their books (mostly the Liaden Universe).

In chronological order:

Scouts Progress

Mouse and Dragon

(Generational gap, here)

Fledgeling

(another gap, but only a few years)

Agent of Change

Carpe Diem

Plan B

I Dare

More, please!

-By Lauren Ritz