Foraging for Words and Food: 2 New Book Recommendations

Your Writing Matters CoverI received two enjoyable books from the last batch of Library Thing Early Reviews, so I’m excited to share my thoughts. First, a craft book then a guidebook that may help fight food costs.

Why I picked it up:
I received a free e-book version of Your Writing Matters: 34 Quick Essays to Get Unstuck and Stay Inspired (amazon associate link) by Keiko O’Leary from the publisher through the Library Thing early reviewers program.

My Expectations:

I enjoy a good craft book. From the sub-title I expected tools and tips to get me motivated and inspired to write.

What I liked:
Let’s start with that beautiful cover: it has gorgeous artwork and a great layout. The sub-title tells the reader exactly what she’ll get: very short essays intended to motivate writers to finish every piece of writing. The essays use personal examples from the writers life and use an informal, conversational tone, bringing the reader into her process as if the reader is a member of her writing group, “Write to the End.” This makes the reader feel included in

What I didn’t like:

The essays read a little too much like blog posts. The book would benefit by some organization creating a progression toward a conclusion. Though I enjoyed the essays, the book overall could use more specific tips and clear steps. The random quotes taken from the essays themselves don’t add to the text, and seem like an awkward way to take up space.

Rating: ♦♦♦▴ 3.5 out of 5

Overall, I enjoyed the majority of the essays. I recommend this book for the beginning writer who feels motivated by knowing someone else is experiencing a similar journey.

foraging cover

Why I picked it up:
I received a free e-book version of Pacific Northwest Edible Plant Foraging & Mushroom Field Guide (amazon associate link) by Stephen Fleming from the author through the Library Thing early reviewers program.

My Expectations:

I have wanted to learn how to identify local, edible mushrooms, so I had high hopes to learn some tricks to separate the edible from the dangerous.

What I liked: I really liked that the book went beyond specific plant identification. It includes healthy harvesting techniques, preparation and preservation, and it even includes some recipes. There’s a seasonal calendar for local mushrooms, which shows me when to be on the lookout, and lists a surprising variety year round. There are also adorable “Identification Logbook” pages to print out and take on foraging adventures. I was especially surprised to learn that the entire Tiger Lily plant is edible, good in stir-fries, salads, and can be pickled. Now, I’m looking forward to next year’s Tiger Lilies.

What I didn’t like: I noticed right away that the writing could be repetitive. However, in a guidebook, that’s probably not the worst thing. I also found the online references for the images a bit off-putting. It would be nice to have the author take first-hand images for his guide. Or perhaps the photo references could be on a page at the back, to at least create the illusion of first-hand photos. The guide could also use more images of the different identifying details.

Rating: ♦♦♦♦ 4 out of 5

Overall, I’m excited to own this book. I recommend it to anyone living in the Pacific Northwest who enjoys exploring outdoors.

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Stories Anthology Review: L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future volume 38

CoverIn anticipation of the Writer’s Games kicking off this weekend, here are my thoughts on a book of short stories I recently enjoyed.

Why I picked it up:
I received a free e-book version of L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future volume 38 (amazon associate link) from the publisher through the Library Thing early reviewers program.

My Expectations:

Because this is a collection of stories by contest winners, and says it is “the best new SF & Fantasy of the year” right on the cover, I had high expectations: I expected some really great science fiction and fantasy stories.

What I liked:
There is so much to like about this book! It opens with a gallery of color illustrations by the winners of the illustration contest, one for each story, that piqued my interest and created anticipation. There is a nice range of stories exploring times from Earth’s history to planets in the far future with some time travel in there as well. I noticed a recurring theme of the power of knowledge and the dangers of memory manipulation which I find very interesting. Before each story and essay there is an extensive, informative bio for the author and illustrator which helps orient the reader for each new experience.

I especially enjoyed “The Single Most Important Piece of Advice” by Frank Herbert followed by one of his stories and then an essay by his son about teamwork and writing with others as he continues to create in his father’s world of Dune. Those three pieces in a row felt like a special moment.

The story by the editor David Farland that accompanies the cover illustration is also very special as it is the last story he wrote. He died only days after he finished editing this book.

What I didn’t like:

There were a couple of stories I didn’t like, and sadly, one of them was chosen as the opening story. This made it difficult for me to get into the book. But luckily, those intriguing, beautiful illustrations at the beginning and the craft essays throughout, pulled me further into the book. My personal preference would have been more science fiction and less fantasy.

Rating: ♦♦♦♦ 4 out of 5

Overall, I enjoyed the majority of the stories, the illustrations are beautiful, and I really liked the inclusion of craft essays and stories by Frank Herbert and other prominent authors and illustrators.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Poetry Book Review: One Thousand Good Answers by Sarah Herrin

In anticipation of National Poetry Writing Month kicking off tomorrow, I thought I would share my thoughts on a book of poetry I recently enjoyed.

Why I picked it up:
I received a free e-book version of One Thousand Good Answers by Sarah Herrin from the publisher through the Library Thing early reviewers program.

My Expectations:
I didn’t know what to expect. From the cover, I thought I might read some flowery poetry with dark undertones.

What I liked:
This book was a satisfying surprise. Sarah Herrin used poems from her previous self-published collection to create new blackout poems, changing them to positive poems of self-love.

I enjoyed reading the original and blackout poems side by side, showing the complete change in feeling and attitude. The new poems are condensed past the essence of the original poems, as if boiled down to their essential oils, leaving a warm, pleasant scent.

What I didn’t like:

There were a couple of poems that didn’t fit with the feel of the collection in my opinion. I also thought completely blacking out the titles on a couple of the poems were lost opportunities.

Rating: ♦♦♦♦ 4 out of 5

Overall, I enjoyed the idea and the execution of this collection.

Happy National Poetry Writing Month!

Library Thing Early Reviewers

LibraryThing Early Reviewers

I joined Library Thing when I created an author page for Gator McBumpypants Hears a Scary Noise. They have a selection of books each month that you can choose from to potentially win in exchange for review. In all these years I have never won, but they recently revamped their system. This month I won two e-books to review: One Thousand Good Answers by Sarah Herrin and Rocking Change: Changing the World through Changing Ourselves by Karl Ernst.

It appears that their new system paid attention to Experience Writing because the first book is blackout poetry which I created examples of and talked about in my post Blackout Poetry Art Day (though I also created a Pinterest collection of blackout poetry), and the theme this year is about creating good habits, to create positive change as I laid out in A Year of Finishing Novels: The first tiny steps. So whether or not I like computer algorithms as part of my life, this one appears to be positive: getting the right books to the right person. I’m excited to review them (look for my reviews over the next couple weeks).

Because I was happily surprised by the selections given to me to review, I added them to my Library Thing library today and saw that I hadn’t added the last Gator McBumpypants book to my page, nor had I ever added any tags to my books. I know I got discouraged by a few people’s responses to my work, but that shouldn’t have stopped me.

It is a truly sad human condition that a bad review can take attention away from the joy on a child’s face when she read the book, or the child that asked if alligators really lived in the lake, giving me the opportunity to talk about the joy of imagination. Or the fact that my books are in my elementary school library. Those are huge successes. I shouldn’t have let the adult judgement get to me. The books weren’t meant for mean, judgy people.

I still have the workings of the book I started in New Orleans when I went back for The Rubber Maids reunion. The trip was an emotional roller-coaster, and when I got back, I went through some major life changes, so my ideas for Gator’s story kept changing. However, looking back at everything I did, this spring might be time to flesh that story out, and create a new Gator McBumpypants for my young niece who is getting close to learning to read.

I want to thank Library Thing for making me feel this way today. Hope is so important and hard to find.

Craft Book Review: Write Your Book In A Flash by Dan Janal

Cover to Write Your Book In A Flash by Dan JanalWrite Your Book In A Flash by Dan Janal published by TCK Publishing is intended to guide professionals through writing a business-oriented non-fiction book, but has many useful tips for fiction writers as well. I recommend this book for everyone who is thinking about writing a book.

Why I picked it up:
I received an email from Maria Inot of TCK Publishing asking if I would be interested in giving an honest review in exchange for a free copy. She said she liked the review I did for How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method (Advanced Fiction Writing) (Volume 1) by Randy Ingermanson.  I’m always interested in books about writing, so I agreed.

My Expectations:
I didn’t know what to expect, but I hoped it would have information that would apply to fiction writing as well as non-fiction writing and provide me with new, actionable information. I was not disappointed.

Intended Audience:
Executives, consultants and entrepreneurs looking to broaden their audience and improve their marketing. He also gears it toward “thought leaders”, as in anyone who has an idea that they want to show or share with others.

What I liked:
I liked a lot of things about the book. First, was Mr. Janal’s voice. He came across as a self-help coach/salesman from the first page. It was the voice of someone who knew you came to him for something in particular and he couldn’t wait to help you find exactly what you wanted.

The structure of the book was (mostly) in a clear building order, so by following his example, you would have a finished product by the end. I liked how he created interactivity by providing free, downloadable worksheets to work along with each chapter and useful links to tools and examples.

I also enjoyed the meta aspect of using how he created this book as examples for how to created a book. Even the parts that were very specific to non-fiction, I found inspiring for ideas for this site, or other aspects of my writing.

What I didn’t like:
I didn’t think the Paint-by-Numbers system was anything more than creating a good outline, which in itself is a great thing to learn, so the metaphor may not have been necessary. In chapter fifteen Mr. Janal uses a different metaphor of bones, muscle and skin which made me think of the writer as Dr. Frankenstein building his monster. That definitely appeals to me more than a paint-by-numbers kit (could just be me).

I felt like a lot of the research section should have come much earlier. One should research the competition before choosing a title, for instance, and using reviews to find out what readers think is missing would be important to know, before writing your outline. Since this book and its worksheets are set up as a step-by-step how-to, I was surprised to find this useful, insightful information so out of place, in my opinion.

There were a couple things I thought could have been changed to make the book appeal to a wider audience. I thought using the story of Papa John’s could have been replaced with a different example and I wouldn’t have said “don’t be a pantser” as many writers identify as such. The explanation as to why was well explained, but finding a way to include pantsers would be more inclusive.

Rating: ♦♦♦♦ 4 out of 5

Overall, I found Mr. Janal knowledgeable and his technique clear and straightforward. I liked that he made the book interactive with downloadable worksheets and useful links. I thought the chapters on outlining could probably have been one chapter or needed more information, especially since his whole metaphor of a paint-by-numbers painting had to do with outlining. However, I really liked this book. I have already explored some of the tips and filled out the worksheets. It is full of useful information. I am going to keep this one on my bookshelf. I recommend it to all writers, bloggers, and people trying to reach a larger audience.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Craft Book Review: How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson

snowflake methodHow to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method (Advanced Fiction Writing) (Volume 1) by Randy Ingermanson takes the unique tact of telling a story to teach storytelling.

Why I picked it up:
I liked the approach of building your novel in repeating smaller forms like a fractal. I wanted to see how he used the analogy.

My Expectations:
I expected a unique approach to novel writing; something to do with the math of chaos theory.

Intended Audience:
Writers in the planning stage of the novel-writing process who don’t mind the odd fairy-tale retelling.

What I liked:
It covered the basics in a straight forward way. It did somewhat follow the fractal idea as it starts with a one sentence pitch and builds it to a synopsis (big picture) then looks at character overview leading to character specifics, then scenes and scene structure. I felt it had many of the same ideas as The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne explained more succinctly and the explanation of Proactive and Reactive scenes made me think of the take-aways I got from Scene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Jack Bickham.

What made this book different from other writing instruction books is it is told in the form of a story itself. Part of me thought this was a great way to make the content less dry and incorporate examples of concepts while learning the concepts. Clever. But I could not get over the character choices. I could only take it in small doses and thought about giving up on it a couple of times.

What I didn’t like:
Goldilocks and the three bears, The Big Bad Wolf and the three little pigs, Robin Hood and Old Mother Hubbard are all at a writer’s conference. It annoyed me. And it wasn’t only that these characters were used, but they kept calling Goldilocks “Blondie” and that didn’t bother her, but Robin Hood kept leching on her, so she finally called him out for calling her “wench”. I also didn’t find the writing “method” unique, but, like the characters, a rehash of the basics.

Rating: ♦♦♦◊ 3.5 out of 5

Overall, I think the writing ideas are useful and clear, and the concept of presenting writing instruction through story is unique and a good idea, but I found the character choices grating and distracting which cheapened the effort.

Happy Reading and Writing!

D is for Duende and a Double Dose of Dufresne

 

duende: noun – 1. a goblin; demon; spirit 2. charm; magnetism

Bonus word: dejecta: noun – feces; excrement

 

Azalea petals

 

Azalea Petals

                                           It was a shame
to cover up those voluptuous curves in that floral tent of a mumu
such a contrast to the white hood and robe silently hanging in the padlocked closet
Her lime and tan wide-brimmed sun hat veiled her face in shadow,
but she also shuttered her eyes with oversized mirrored sunglasses
as if darkness was not dark enough to hide her thoughts

It was a dirty shame
the way he still stared longingly, lustfully while imagining no one saw
his history of apologies sloughed like the purple azalea petals
scattered on the pavement at the cease of spring
His gape eluded to his ape ancestry, unaware of the taboo;
triggered by olfactory stimuli: the heat, the sweat
He stood erect; up from the dusty ground revealing his genitals,
revealing his weakness

It was a crying shame
that she looked out the window at that moment of passing duende
She observed his every twitch of the dance
Her nose curled at the smell of dejecta while festering secrets burst forth
like erumpent maggots from a rotten apple
She thought of his ancestry, his family grooming him in consolation after
his beat down by the alpha male from whom he did not evolve
Now he only suffered the yearnings of the flesh.

For shame!

 

For today’s poem I took a look at a couple philosophy staples I’ve kept with me since college:Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche and Civilization and Its Discontents (The Standard Edition) (Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud).
For the poetic form, I was inspired by District and Circle: Poems by Seamus Heaney, specifically “Edward Thomas on the Lagans Road,” “A Clip,” and “A Chow.” This book of poems has great examples of using specific descriptive nouns.

Craft Book Review

If you have followed Experience Writing for a while or follow me on twitter, you have probably heard me mention Is Life Like This?: A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months by John Dufresne. I read this book early in my writing journey and I still use the tools he discussed.

Mr. Dufresne has a new book about writing flash fiction called FLASH!: Writing the Very Short Story and for this review, I also read his book The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction.

Flash! cover

Why I picked it up: I enjoy writing flash fiction and was curious about Mr. Dufresne’s take on the subject.

My Expectations: I am a big fan of Mr. Dufresne’s other craft book Is Life Like This?, so I had high expectations that I would learn something and enjoy this book.

Intended Audience: People curious about flash fiction.

What I liked: This book is full of great examples of flash fiction stories, in their entirety, by many different authors. There’s a wonderful variety. The book flows nicely: heavy on the examples at the beginning and ending heavy on the suggested exercises and writing prompts.

What I didn’t like: There isn’t anything I didn’t like about this book. The only problem with reading it is I now have even more stories to write. Because I read Mr. Dufresne’s other writing books, I recognized some of the exercises–he even included a Flash-O-Matic–but it makes sense that many fiction exercises for longer fiction would work well for flash fiction also.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 5/5

Why I picked it up: I picked this one up to see what other gems of knowledge Mr. Dufresne had to impart.a lie that tells a truth cover

My Expectations: My expectations were perhaps not quite as high for this one. I wondered if it might repeat  much of what I read in his other books.

Intended Audience: Fiction writers of all levels and interests.

What I liked: This book is packed with exercises. Someone in a chat the other day asked me what books I would recommend with good writing exercises and I replied, “Anything by John Dufresne.” I was not wrong.

What I didn’t like: My issue with this book is the format. It is so packed with quotes (usually two to each page) that I couldn’t get through the text without reading through the chapter’s quotes and then going back to read the chapter. And even then I found the quotes distracting. I’m not into quotes out of context in the first place, so they don’t enhance my reading experience when placed well, but the way these broke up the page distracted me from the substance.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ 3/5 I recommend doing the exercises.

Happy Reading and Writing!

See you tomorrow.

B is for Banausic and Bickham – Craft Book Review: Jack M. Bickham Double Feature

banausic beauty

banausic: adjective – relating to or concerned with earning a living; utilitarian; mechanical; practical. Not operating on a refined or elevated level; mundane.

Today’s NaPoWriMo theme was the I, or the speaker of the poem. I thought it tied in well with witness testimony which I am studying in an online forensic psychology class through futurelearn.com

I also found inspiration in National Book Award Winner Lighthead: Poems (Penguin Poets) by Terrance Hayes, especially “Lighthead’s Guide To Addiction” and “Satchmo Returns To New Orleans.”

tools of physical labor

Craft Book Review

I first came across Jack M. Bickham‘s name while reading Crafting Dynamic Dialogue: The Complete Guide to Speaking, Conversing, Arguing, and Thinking in Fiction (Creative Writing Essentials) from the editors of Writer’s Digest. His book Writing novels that sell was mentioned in a section called Parent-Adult-Child which talked about three primary roles people/characters occupy in life.

My local library didn’t have that book, but did have Scene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing) and Setting (Elements of Fiction Writing), so I picked them up instead. They are both part of a series called Elements of Fiction Writing 5 Volume Set (Beginnings, Middles & Ends – Description – Setting – Characters & Viewpoint – Scene & Structure)

Setting

My Expectations: A while back in a critique meet-up, I  heard people talking about active setting. I hadn’t read A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting: How to Enhance Your Fiction with More Descriptive, Dynamic Settings by Mary Buckham yet, so I still wasn’t clear what sort of magic made setting active and hoped this book might clear that up.

Intended Audience:
All fiction writers, but it may be a little advanced for early beginners.

What I liked: It was fun to learn about setting from the man who wrote Twister which  has a vibrant setting and uses setting (weather) as a character. Not only did this book answer my questions about active setting, it inspired me, through straight-forward exercises, to think about setting differently in my novel. This book really clicked for me and helped me understand aspects of setting that I hadn’t thought of before.

What I didn’t like: The writing is very dense. Though the book isn’t very thick, it’s a slow read. Definitely worth it because I really felt aha! moments, but it felt like mining through thick stone to get to the gold.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 4/5 I recommend this book.

Scene & Structure

 My Expectations: Because I had such a good experience with Setting (Elements of Fiction Writing), I had high expectations for this book. I looked forward to seeing what sort of clarity Mr. Bickham could bring to my understanding of plot.

Intended Audience: Writers of fiction. Perhaps most useful to someone planning a novel. Though I plan to use his order of component segments of scene and sequel to evaluate my scenes during revision.

What I liked: This book did not disappoint. Mr. Bickham’s presentation and explanation of scene and sequel were eye-opening and gave me lots of ideas to evaluate and improve my draft.

What I didn’t like: This book, even more than setting, felt like a lot of reading for the amount of useful information. However, the information is so useful, that it makes it completely worthwhile.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦  4/5  I recommend this book.

Happy Reading and Writing!

I’ll see you tomorrow.

Craft Book Review: Story Fix

Story Fix coverStory Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant by Larry Brooks is intended to help authors “reinvigorate” rejected novels, but I found it lacking in tangible instruction and full of discouragement.

Why I picked it up: I was looking through Writing Voice: The Complete Guide to Creating a Presence on the Page and Engaging Readers (Creative Writing Essentials) from the editors at Writer’s Digest and started looking up the different authors who had written chapters. Because I am focused on editing and revision, Larry Brooks’s book looked like a good choice.

My Expectations: I was expecting a book on revision and editing with specific guidelines to follow as I revise my draft. With the bold title STORY FIX, I expected a plethora of tools and boxes to check.

Intended Audience: This book is for writers whose manuscripts have been rejected so many times that they are facing a major re-write or abandoning their novel to the drawer of despair, or the locked trunk in the basement. The author also assumes the reader has attended conferences.

What I liked: The examples of Mr. Brooks coaching authors at the end of the book are  worth reading. Before I got to the three case studies, I was having trouble finding anything I liked, but they were interesting. I recommend reading the case studies first and then, if you’re curious about Mr. Brooks’s terminology, going back and reading those sections of the book. I found the questions Mr. Brooks asked the authors during these story coaching sessions to be eye opening while evaluating my own manuscript.

What I didn’t like: Until the coaching examples (and somewhat during), the book comes across as very negative. Mr. Brooks appears to think he’s being honest and frank, 200 pages of tough love, one might say, but it comes across as cynical and impugning. Until I read the case studies, I felt like I had read 150 pages of how to write an elevator pitch and fifty pages telling me I might as well give up trying.

 

Rating:  ♦ ♦   2 out of 5 – only because of the coaching examples at the end.

 

Books on revision and editing I would recommend instead:

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein. I reviewed this book as my first Craft Book Review. It is not only for authors of children’s and YA novels.

The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne

Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction) by James Scott Bell

 

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

 

Craft Book Review: The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

The Magic Words book cover

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein is a great book for writers who are ready to take their manuscript to the next level. As an editor for Scholastic, Cheryl has experience that makes her an authority on the subject of revision and editing MG and YA novels. She shares first hand stories about the revision process that bring difficult subjects to life.

Why I picked it up:

It was one of the books recommended by Denise Jaden at the end of Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days for when you’ve finished your draft and you’re ready to edit.

My Expectations:

Because the book is about writing for children and because Magic is in the title, I expected it to be focused on magical thinking and getting back to the child mind. I expected exercises in discovering stories that appeal to children and using language geared toward different age groups. This book wasn’t like that at all.

Intended Audience:

The ideal reader is a fiction writer who has finished a first draft of a novel fomiddle school, high school or adult readers. To get the most out of the exercises, you will want to have read through your draft and created a “book map.” The book map is a lot like the story grid from The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne that I talked about in the Editing Focus sections of my Final Days of 2017 posts. Cheryl Klein uses a post from Anita Nolan as an example. The book map is also a lot like Susan Dennard’s index card outline.

What I liked:

I liked the examples from her work as an editor working with authors. Her experiences were informative and brought the concepts into the real world. I also liked the extensive exercises in every chapter. The exercises raise poignant questions to get you analyzing your work.

Since I focused on plot last fall, I enjoyed that this book presents a fresh take. I learned yet another plotting structure called Freytag’s pyramid. I hadn’t heard of this one before. Based on Poetics from Aristotle, it describes the five act dramatic structure of classical plays, but also works as a model of rising action.

The Magic Words is thorough, covering every aspect of writing and revising your novel.

For your convenience both the plot chart and the character chart discussed in the book are available on the book’s page of Cheryl’s website.

What I didn’t like:

I got tired of Harry Potter references. If I didn’t write adult fiction as well as children’s fiction, I would have found most of the examples (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight) to be geared toward older kids and I would not have found this book very useful. However, as a book on the craft of writing, it was excellent.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦  5/5 Highly Recommend

 

Writing Reviews

I have a favor to ask. This year, I plan to write a review each week. I’m trying to come up with a format that is both fun and informative so I would appreciate your feedback of this review.

  • Did you like the layout?
  • Was the review helpful?
  • What else would you like to know about the book?
  • What didn’t you like about the review?
  • How could it be better?

Please respond in the comments. Thank you.

Happy Reading and Writing!