A Weekend of Reading Central Asia #amreading

Map of Central Asia

The last three books I read took me on an interesting trip through Central Asia

The Seattle Public Library’s Summer Reading Bingo has been a great inspiration for me to finish a lot of books on my 2016 reading goal list and a lot more. Each square of the board, for those of you not playing along, has a specific kind of book you need to read to fill in a square.

On my quest to blackout their bingo card, I read a memoir, a book that was written over 100 years ago and a book translated from another language. It turned out that the memoir my mother gave me about a year ago was I Am Malala, the book I had from over 100 years ago was Kim by Rudyard Kipling and the book I bought, because I liked the blog a year of reading the world, but I hadn’t read yet was Hurramabad by Andrei Volos.

I didn’t plan to read these books in the order I did and as you will see in my reviews, probably wouldn’t have read all of them without the inspiration of the Summer Reading Bingo Card, but I feel like the coincidence of the connection and the story of the three books is interesting enough to share.

I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me a long time to get past the first few chapters of this book, but I am very glad I did. The second part of the book is about the rise of the Taliban in the Swat area of Pakistan and the events that led up to Malala being shot. This section is full of important historic, religious and cultural information from the point of view of the people living it every day. I recommend the middle section of this book to everyone.

KimKim by Rudyard Kipling

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The back of this book says “Magical, mystical, bristling with danger and excitement. . . . I claim shenanigans! That was false advertising–yes, it might have been very exciting in 1911, but that back cover of my paperback was written in 1984, so they knew they were lying. The book has many interesting things to say about the history and culture of India, but it is so boring and full of polite and impolite dialogue that if I hadn’t needed to read “a book from over 100 years ago” for Summer Reading Bingo, I would have gotten rid of it. That said, I am glad I read it directly after I Am Malala and before Hurramabad because that made for interesting mental travels.

&HurramabadHurramabad by Andrei Volos

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is amazing! Written as a series of stories about the people of a town called Hurramabad in Tajikistan, it takes the reader into the daily lives, thoughts and troubles of a few specific characters. When I finished the chapter called “A House On The River”, I said Wow aloud to my living room. All of the stories are about leaving in one way or another, arriving at the message that we are foreigners wherever we are. I recommend this book to everyone.
Why is this grouping read is this order interesting to me?

Because Malala’s story mentions that Pakistan was not so long ago a part of India and if you look at the map of India from 1940 it looks like this:

A map of India from 1940 before partition

The map of India that includes Pakistan bordering Tajikistan.

This map might be close to what Kim traveled. The hills in the north that he visits could very well be lands that Malala talks about and are mentioned in Hurramabad. All three books talk about joy of nature, being a stranger in one’s own home and the horrors that humans have done to one another over and over again.

One thing I did get from Kim by Rudyard Kipling was the message of life on the Wheel and not on the Wheel. The idea that life keeps repeating until you learn, until you find a better path (are enlightened). These three books tell the tale of the Wheel and how humans can’t seem to stop being horrible to each other.

From over 100 years ago to now this minute issues of misinterpreted texts, are brainwashing people into horrible, even murderous behaviors and I am so glad to not live in a place where I could be shot for going to school, or murdered for making a house, or beaten to death for being a woman walking without a family male escort. My poor brother wouldn’t ever get to work; he has a wife, a daughter, an unmarried sister, a mother, a niece. How would anyone ever do anything?

I have thinking to do. I want all people to have free education and never be misinformed by the selfish wants of powerful leaders, or gun-holding murderers. I hope Malala will some day return to a peaceful Pakistan and the people of Russia and Tajikistan will call each other brother and no longer live in poverty. Mostly, I wish that all Americans will take advantage of their freedom and read and learn and discuss. Stop being cruel to each other when you have everything, more than everything.

As a person who was in the Peace Corps in a small village, The Ivory Coast, West Africa  I have to say:  Imagine yourself spending your days not letting the fire go out because if you did, you couldn’t eat or even have tea. You might look at life differently.

Happy Education Everyone!


P.S. It was easier than I thought it would be to transfer my Goodreads book reviews to WordPress. You just have to copy the html of your review on Goodreads then switch to html view in your draft on WordPress and paste it in. When I switched back into Visual view I chose to erase the link that said “See all my reviews” and then went to my next review, copied the html and switched back to html view in WordPress and pasted it after the first one.  Hope this inspires those of you who haven’t tried it yet. I’m sure I can make the reviews have stars and make the images larger, etc. with just a little html. There are guidelines on Goodreads just above your review box. Hope this helps others who haven’t tried yet.

Working on your novel, or just dreaming about it? Plan now for next year’s writers conference(s)

Map of US with writers conferences by state and month

If you would like me to add your favorite writers conference to the map, please let me know.

I wanted this map, it didn’t exist, so I made it.  It took a little extra time, but I created what I wanted and there is a lot of information there. Enjoy (and site me).

Last post, I went into detail about some of my favorite aspects of The Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Conference. Now, I want to speak more generally to what you can get out of going to a writer’s conference. The main point being dive in and buy your ticket as soon as you can.

For a first time author, or someone only starting to write their first novel, a writer’s conference is a huge decision. There are a lot of costs to consider, not only monetarily, but emotionally, and physically. So that brings us back to my final notes from my last post:

Was going to PNWA16 worth the time, money and stress? Absolutely.


Let’s go into the details of why:

Meeting other writers – Everyone is at the conference for different reasons, but they all have one thing in common, they write.

Many writers spend the majority of their time alone and avoiding social situations. Spending time with others might be in critique, or in fear of critique, so the idea of a conference feels like throwing oneself to the slaughter.

Okay, I’m talking about me. I almost didn’t go. I imagined myself hiding somewhere. If I hadn’t made myself responsible by volunteering, I most likely would have excused myself and psycho-somaticly died of the plague. The moment I walked in, however, I didn’t feel a moment of nervousness. Not a moment of disrespect or why is she so weird or they are talking about me or why does she have that look on her face. I felt accepted, wanted, interested and interesting and it was AWESOME. I did what I needed to do and it turned out that I was good at moderating sessions. I made others feel strong and good about themselves. That is a great feeling.

Many of the sessions at writer’s conferences are about creating your writers platform on social media. I had done everything I could for my Gator McBumpypants books, but I had one true fan for my efforts (totally worth it) and it was the daughter of a person in my writer’s social group, not anyone from my social media efforts.

Social media is way more fun when there are real people you met and care about to read your messages. Who knew that a romance writer might be my best twitter friend and the Seattle Library Summer Bingo would turn summer reading into crazy discussion? Suddenly I want to be there  when before it was a terrible chore.

Also, it is a great way to meet people who will look at your work before you send it out and let you help them with their work which is a wonderful honor.

Pitching to agents and editors –

This was definitely the most stressful part of the conference AND the reason I was there. I thought it was the only reason to go to a conference and had prepared for my pitch for over six months.

I was surprised to find people that were there and didn’t pitch. Those people have a year up on me.

I was prepared. First day, I walked sheepishly into a room that said practice pitching. It was a round-table of people talking to each other, sounding very knowledgeable while waiting for me to get my nerve up. None of them shared their pitches. A wonderful older man joined us and shared his pitch.He had a good story, but it wasn’t a pitch. He was appreciated and given good feedback. I felt ready. I volunteered my pitch.

I was given praise. I was not asked much in the way of questions. I was told my pitch was awesome. I thought I was ready. I had prepared correctly.

I was not ready.

My months of research and all the nice people couldn’t prepare me for my pitch session.

I thought, I was told I’ll see four to six agents today, I’ll probably see everyone who’s interested in my work. I want to see these agents first, then I will go through the best on my list. From what I was told, I had the impression I might see everyone I wanted in one session.

I got shut down. I felt like I was hit by a truck.

Again. If I hadn’t volunteered to moderate sessions which was  stressful, I might have given up and crawled under a rock and died. But somehow, the writers sitting in chairs upstairs where I sat down to decide if I could take another second of thinking I am a writer or should just give up completely were so kind and accepting of my little breakdown, it was like all the horror never happened because one had been through worse and one wasn’t ready to try yet. So, you know, you have to get ready for tomorrow. They helped me decide to stay for the evening presentation. By the time dinner was over, I was ready to try again.

My point is, I thought I had made all the wrong decisions, but I hadn’t. The first day I found out who wasn’t my match and the next day I was ready for the questions that come after the practiced pitch like : Why did you write this? What happens next? What is special about your protagonist? And the best question I got all conference: So how does it end?

I didn’t get to the rest of the wonderful reasons why you should think about going to a writers conference in this post, there is too much to talk about and I have too much reading and writing to do, but I am happy with my info-graphic of possible conferences to think about.

Chuck Sambuchino wrote a great post about choosing a writer’s conference over at The Write Life

Today We Write! #PNWA16

pnwa16 program

Last weekend I attended my first writers conference, The Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Sea-Tac, Washington.  I learned so much at this conference that I decided to write a few posts about it. To start with, enjoy reading about my favorite events at the conference.

When I talk about moderating a session I mean, I took the opportunity to volunteer to help as needed and was assigned to moderate some of the session. That means that I got to meet and introduce some of the speakers. It was stressful at first, but went very smoothly thanks to Jennifer Douwes and D.C.C. Mealy. They kindly welcomed me, answered my questions and showed me the ropes.

My favorites from the conference:

The featured speakers (dessert/dinner)

The first night, Robert Dugoni was the featured speaker. I read his book My Sister’s Grave in preparation for the conference and really enjoyed it, so I was excited to hear what he had to say before he even started. His speech was moving (I was shocked to hear he had recently had a stroke) and inspiring (the twists and turns of his writing life). He repeated  two main themes. First, “It’s just stuff” which I took to mean, don’t write to obtain things but to write the very best book you can every time. Second “Hello, writing my old friend” which to me said, though life has its twists and turns and roller coaster ups and downs, a love for writing doesn’t go away.

The second night there was a sit down dinner with a panel of featured speakers, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had read The End Game by Catherine Coulter in preparation, but she wasn’t there. What did happen was Robert Dugoni posed unrehearsed questions to C.C. Humphreys, Steven James, Sheila Roberts and Gerri Russell. Most of the questions were about their writing process and careers. I really enjoyed the variety of personalities and viewpoints. There was a lot of banter and laughing and the vegan entree was even edible. What a night.

The Importance of a Strong Synopsis

I was worried about moderating this panel because it was first thing Saturday morning, directly before my pitch block, and I would be introducing four agents and collecting and reading all of the synopses. Luckily, the agents were happy to introduce themselves and were game to pick and read the synopses. Whew!

Like at dinner, the variety of personalities and viewpoints made this a great panel. I loved the discussion that arose from each synopsis read and the variety of the examples. It really drove home the point that everyone’s story is different.

Ask An Expert: Thriller/Mystery

I’m very glad I volunteered to moderate this panel. Though it took a little while to get the questions rolling, I thought the questions asked spurred a great discussion. Editor Anna Michels (pronounced Michaels)  of SourceBooks brought a great perspective from the publishing side to balance the two experienced and interesting thriller authors: Award winner and previous nuclear engineer Mike Lawson (I’m enjoying reading House Secrets) and New York Times bestseller and Jeopardy! champion Boyd Morrison. When I was researching the panel to prepare to introduce them, I was excited to see that Boyd and I have something in common–We both worked for NASA.

My uncle got excited when I told him Boyd writes with Clive Cussler. He says he’s a huge Cussler fan. Now he knows he’s a Boyd Morrison fan as well.

Take a month to save a year

Royce Buckingham‘s presentation held a very useful message. Not every idea we have is our best idea. Even the most prolific writer can’t write every idea they have. Save yourself time and test your ideas before you throw yourself into writing them. Tell your story ideas to people you think could be your audience/market. He mentioned pitching your story at parties as if they are the latest blockbuster movie you just saw. See which idea people get the most excited about and write that one. He recommends talking to at least 100 people before you get started.

Dancing with the stars: How to Connect with Celebrities for a Book Blurb

Chelly (pronounced Shelly) Wood also had some great, unexpected advice. Her presentation was about how supporting charities you are passionate about can help you network and enhance your author platform. I love this idea and am surprised how eye-opening it was.

Her message is that you don’t have to work for the charity, or donate a bunch of money (unless you have a bunch of money to give away), you can show support in other ways. You can promote charities on your website and social media to make others aware. You can volunteer for an event. You can donate (small) percentages of sales, etc.

Her further message is building your platform is all about asking what can I do for others. Get creative: Can you promote a local business that is related to something in your book? Can you invite a guest blogger who writes about something interesting in your book, not specifically the craft of writing? Or offer a guest blog for them?

Chelly designs doll clothes and gives away free patterns at ChellyWood.com


Was going to PNWA16 worth the time, money and stress? Absolutely and here’s why:

  • Meeting other writers

  • Pitching to agents and editors

  • Learning more about the craft

  • Building a better author platform

  • Putting the work in perspective

I’m going to write more about this next time. Don’t forget to follow this blog and sign up for my monthly newsletter. You know, free fun stuff for you!

You have so many links to follow and great writers to read from this post, I think you’ll be plenty busy. If not, below are links to other people who attended and wrote about the conference.

What other bloggers are saying about pnwa16:

Joe Beernink

Connie J. Jasperson

Renee N. Meland

Kisa Whipkey



Anyone else want to share their conference experiences (any writers conference)? I look forward to hearing from you.

Happy Writing and Reading!