5 Novels that inspired this snowed-in writer


This weekend I was snowed in. I had not expected snow when I awoke on Friday. I’d expected to go to the DMV and then prepare for the local craft guild’s annual art market on Saturday. But the snow kept coming, and the show was cancelled. I’m so used to running around and putting out fires that being confined to my house, in the quiet, gave me an excuse to do whatever I wanted. With all of my plans thwarted, I thought, “Hey, Lauren, you finally get to do what you’ve been putting off most.” Writing! YES. 

NO. 

I searched for the notes I’d made for the next novel I’m preparing to write. This is the time when I freak out about writing a new book: when I have an idea, have some characters in mind, have an idea for a conflict or two, but haven’t figured out how to connect the dots. I usually draw myself a kind of treasure map to suggest some connections between points A and Z, but I have lost that map. I put it aside over the summer, knowing I’d have to come back to this project now, when I had more time. (HA! When do we ever get “more time”?)

The map has evidently been swallowed by the house. (Some days my house feels like the one in Poltergeist, waiting to swallow everything like the gaping singularity that it is.) Now I must start from scratch. I’m anxious and I need my road map.

In a few days, I’m headed out of town for the holidays. Usually, Christmas means all kinds of chaos for me. But this year, my sweetie says I can pretend to be a hermit at his house. “It can be your writing retreat,” he said. I think that might be the best Christmas present ever.

I need a map before my plane lands. I need to point myself in a writerly direction and GO. This will be my novel writing month, a little behind all the NaNoWriMo folks. But still, this novel is something that is burning a hole in my brain, needing to be written. I have a deadline after all, and my writing partner has already finished her novel. (GAH. SHE IS ON SCHEDULE, DAMMIT.) I hardly had time to write over the summer, and missed it terribly. This retreat will be my chance to cross-train my creative muscles and get myself back in fighting writer shape.

Good writers always say you have to read to be a great writer, and I believe that. I love a good story, but in some ways, reading is research for the craft. Even when I can’t make myself write, I read. And my future books are better for it.

Here are five books that inspired me recently, based on anything from character to dialogue to colorful prose:

  1. Wicked in a Kilt by Anna Durand. This is a straight up rom-com that had me glued to the pages. I read it over a weekend, staying up way too late at night, getting smitten with Erica and Lachlan. I do love it when romance and comedy come together in a book as delightful as this one. I didn’t want it to end, and was absolutely delighted by the chemistry between the characters and the playful banter. Can this be a movie, please? There were a lot of things to like about this book, but snappy dialogue topped the list.
  2. Landfall by Ellen Urbani. It took me a while to get through this one, just because of the sadness of the post-Katrina setting. It’s chock full of tragedy, but there’s an awful lot of fierce beauty, too. The alternating POVs between two young women brought together by one tragic event were done masterfully. The sory moves quickly, digging deep into the girls’ lives, tracing the events that brought them together, and the unexpected similarities that existed between them.
  3. The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill. This was another melancholy one, but I loved this book for its incredible use of language and imagination. O’Neill creates brilliant descriptions, peppered through the pages like confident brush strokes that light up a canvas. I found myself reading some sentences over and over, just to enjoy them again. I love an author who so obviously loves language, and this one used playful, imaginative scenes that balanced the sadness of the characters’ choices in a truly memorable way. It was stark, and raw, and gorgeous.
  4. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. I actually listened to the audio book, but found myself wanting to stay in the car long after my commute. Hoffman moved through time seamlessly, propelling the story forward with characters who stumbled through conflicts with fire and grace. I felt like I knew these characters as real people by the end of the book, and damn if I didn’t want to have them all over for dinner. I was of course curious to learn more about the characters from Practical Magic, and was pleasantly surprised by the charm and wonder the story evoked. I expected magic, and it delivered. 
  5. Wonder When You’ll Miss Me by Amanda Davis. A poignant premise with a tragic event sets the story in motion, but Davis creates strong characters that have biting wit. Somehow she manages to make this story both humorous and heartbreaking—a combination I admire because of its complexity. I’m in love with the women in this story—especially with Faith, who is led through the story by an imagined version of her former self, bent on seeking revenge for the cruelty she endured. The best part? Our protagonist saves herself. This is the kind of story that lodges itself in my heart.

Now that I’ve been sufficiently inspired, I’m going to draw a map for that nest book. Happy reading, y’all. 

 

 

Guest Post: Tales from the Hot Tub, by Author Daisy Mae

This week’s guest post is written by Daisy Mae, author of Dating Daisy it’s a funny, charming novel about a divorcée who is struggling to find love again through internet dating. Thanks for sharing your story on the blog, Daisy!

 

 

In the corner of our garden, tucked in between the pear trees and the clematis, sits our pride and joy. It’s not a dog, or a precious tree, a statue, or a sculpture – no – Guess what! It’s a Hot Tub!

When I clicked on Edward online 3 years ago, while nervously trying my hand at internet dating, I had absolutely no idea he had a marvellous secret – he had, in the back garden, his very own Hot Tub!

Now I have always adored hot tubs. On a spa day with my girlfriends I am straight in there and never want to get out! I don’t know about you? Climbing into a hot tub is my idea of heaven, and paradise, all rolled into one.

To score a 10, the hot tub has to be BIG, DEEP and VERY, VERY HOT! Nothing else will do! And to be honest on spa days I am often disappointed as these hot tubs for Joe Public are often sadly lacking in these criteria! But Edward’s hot tub is a Rolls Royce hot tub!

It has 4 deep seats, with cushioned head rests, so your shoulders are naturally submerged when you are seated. When you take the cover off, clouds of steam, evaporate in front of you, so you just know you are stepping into utopian bliss! It’s sparklingly clean- he tends to it with fatherly concern every day! – and smells ocean fresh as he puts aromatherapy crystals into it every night. It’s so hot, as you step in, you have to lower yourself into the steam slightly hesitantly – not because you are going to burn yourself – but because the sinking down, boiling hot sensation is so phenomenal it’s almost orgasmic – and you just naturally want to savour a second of it!

We first met in a pub for dinner, but after instant success, – Yes he fell in love with me as I got out of my car! –  our second and third dates were in his hot tub! Yes, very romantic! But Edward was worried about appearing in front of me in his swimming trunks! The first time I went to his house, we had dinner, and I kept asking, “so when we were going in the hot tub?”  He was obviously disconcerted …  and he kept saying “It’s not dark enough yet! Have another glass of wine!”…  closely followed by “Why didn’t  I employ a body double for the evening!”

When we did finally strip off – swimwear of course – we lounged around for a good hour or so with a glass or two of wine – and I eventually had to ask him to kiss me! “Oh,” he said, “am I allowed!” So yes, we did have our first kiss in the hot tub!

In case you are wondering – it is virtually impossible to really have sex in a hot tub! The walls and seats are the wrong shape, the depth is all wrong, the water is not helpful as it isn’t really a good lubricant – and it’s not great for the neighbours to watch – so sorry to disappoint you – but we don’t do that!

Lying in the hot tub most nights, often late in the evening before we go to bed, we gaze up at the moon and the stars. Edward is passionate about space, stars and time. His biggest delight would be to share the hot tub with Brain Cox and bombard him with questions about blackholes and galaxies. For Valentine’s Day 2015, I bought us our own star! It’s called the Daisy & Peter Binary star, as it is actually two stars joined together. It will be registered for posterity, forever, on the Space map as our star! We love it!

Now – I have read that hot tubs can have great advantages for human health, read on, but also that trouble can lurk beneath! I’m quite sure that with Edward’s fastidious hot tub biochemical wizardry there is nothing growing in our hot tub whatsoever. In fact, you could boil an egg in it! Why not! (Rick Stein did just that in a hot spring, on one of his Long Weekends in Iceland!).

In the hot tub our blood vessels relax and dilate, blood pressure falls, and our core temperature rises. This is a great remedy for anxiety and stress, and of course helps deal with our insomnia. Moreover some studies have shown the hot tub can lower glucose levels, reduce inflammation and soothe arthritic joints. Steam and heat can clear sinuses, and reduce the frequency of tension headaches and migraine.

Ok – yes –  I did read about the faecal material that resides in the natal cleft and is churned up by the jets creating  a sort of poo soup! And that people urinate in hot tubs – they don’t in ours! – and that herpes has been cultured from the hot tub plastic seats! But surely this is for the great unclean who don’t shower, or attend to their personal hygiene like you and I! As for herpes – it’s a virus – 70% of the population already have anti-herpes antibodies, meaning they’ve met the infection before! (Anyway, Granny can give you herpes, when she gives you a kiss under the Christmas Tree! – it’s true!) Our hot tub is herpes free for certain!

So, anyone out there interested in romance? In doing things differently? New ideas for a first date? Maybe you are a space enthusiast and need somewhere a bit different to site your telescope! Maybe you just love wine, hot water and steam!

Whatever your reason – hot tubs can be romantic. They can be a fabulous place in which to conduct a relationship!  Just climb in, turn on those jets, sink down, and breathe deeply! And the only other guests we need to worry about in our hot tub – are our very own family- of hot tub ducks!

Daisy Mae x

 

Dating Daisy is a new novel all about internet dating in middle age (and now it’s an audiobook, too!). It’s available at Amazon.com and at Amazon.co.uk

For more about Daisy, visit www.datingdaisy.net. (Ask me any questions about sexual health, menopause or internet dating – I’m now an Agony Aunt!).

Plus see my Sexual Health blog – Daisy Mae – at The Huffington Post UK (www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/)

Follow Daisy Mae on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

 

Lily by Any Other Name: Book Review and Interview with Author Julie C. Gardner

Last week I read Julie C. Gardner’s Lily by Any Other Name. It’s a sweet love story that examines the many complex ties that test us in our teens: those between our best friends, our first loves, and our families. For Lily, those ties are all stretched to the limit at the very same time. Her world is upended when she goes through a breakup and gets startling news from her parents—these events make her question what it truly means to love someone, through their faults and flaws—and reminds us of how much we can learn about ourselves by loving someone else.

Lily features a smart, lovable heroine and a cast of fully-realized characters that illustrate how entangled our lives can be. I felt like I was right back in high school as I was reading, rooting for Lily the whole time. Watching Lily begin to understand the complexities of love was equal parts joy and heartache, and seeing her learning to stand up for herself and what she most wants in the world made me cheer. At times a little melancholy and often quite funny, Lily by Any Other Name is a delight to read. I wish I’d known a Lily when I was in high school.

Lily by Any Other Name is Julie’s first YA novel. I’ve been waiting to ask her about her transition into writing YA, so this was the perfect time to have a chat. Here’s what she had to say about her latest storytelling adventures:

1. What inspired you to write Lily by Any Other Name? Any plans for a sequel? 

Lily began as a short story I wrote for a writing course I was taking years ago. At the time I was teaching high school English (and dreaming of being a writer). I fell in love with Lily and her mother Claudia, and wanted to follow the “surprise” of that story to its conclusion. Lily’s experiences (both good and the bad) were inspired by the issues I witnessed my own students navigating. I had a front row seat to all the joys and heartbreaks of senior year. As for a sequel, I have an outline for what happens after Lily graduates. If readers want to know, I’d love to write it!

2. How is writing for a YA audience different than writing for an older audience? What did you enjoy most about writing for a YA audience, and what was the biggest challenge?

Everything is different about a YA audience, except for the fact that I think all readers want to feel something when they read. The biggest challenge of YA is channeling what’s important to them. Adult worries and wishes are quite different. But everyone wants to feel valued and loved. That’s a universal.

3. If you could go back and tell High School Julie one thing, what would it be?

The easy answer is that I’d tell her not to worry about what everyone else thinks or does. Isn’t that a problem all teenagers face? But to that end, I’d tell her to trust herself more. The hardest issues I’ve faced came after ignoring my intuition.

4. What are a few of your favorite books, and what do you like most about each one?

I love The Book Thief for the lyricism of its prose and beauty of the story. The author chooses a most unusual narrator, and I was thrilled that he pulled it off. I also love A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner, not only because they are gorgeously written, but because they explore a culture with which I was completely unfamiliar. That’s part of the wonder and importance of literature, I think.

5. What’s something you’d like to see more of in YA literature?

I appreciate the move toward strong female characters in the past decade (since The Hunger Games), but I prefer contemporary YA to dystopian. I’d like to see more contemporary male characters who are sensitive and flawed, rather than heroic. We’re all just doing our best, struggling to find our places in the world, aren’t we?

6. Can you share anything about the next book you’re working on? Any teasers?

Well, I do have a sequel to Lily that expands on the “triangles” of the first book: love triangles, friend triangles, and family triangles. But even I don’t know how their stories are going to end. (That part of writing thrills me!)

Lily by Any Other Name is available for Kindle here. You can also find it for Kobo and for Nook.

Julie C. Gardner is the author of Letters for Scarlet and Guest List. A native of Southern California, Julie lives in a suburb of LA with her husband, two children, and three dogs. When Julie isn’t writing, she enjoys reading, napping, and finding new excuses not to run. Lily by Any Other Name is Julie’s first Young Adult novel.

To learn more about the author, visit her website, juliecgardner.com, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you sign up for her newsletter, you’ll receive a sample of her humorous marathon memoir, Running with Pencils.

NaNoWriMo: How My Tiny Word Count is Saving Me

I was looking forward to kicking myself into high gear this month, for another round of NaNoWriMo, but I quickly realized that there was just too much life happening. There was no way I was going to finish my next novel this November. December? Maybe. This month? No way.

Instead of giving up completely, I decided to take a different approach. Yes, it was unlikely that I could write 2000 words a day for the novel that’s rolling around in my head. But I still need to write. It keeps me sane, and this year has been a doozie.

Earlier this week, I wrote in a guest post for the Tall Poppies about this need to “seek the wonder.” An author friend, Ron Rash, inscribed that phrase in my copy of Above the Waterfall and it struck a chord with me. I feel like I’ve done that my whole life—that’s part of the appeal of being a writer, for me—but with all the chaos of the last year, I’d stopped seeing the wonder around me the way I used to. It felt like a part of me was broken—like the engine that kept me running.

So for this NaNoWriMo, I will seek the wonder and retrain my eyes, my brain, and my heart. For 30 days, I’m writing down something that struck me as wondrous—no matter how small it seems. Small things can be pretty amazing, too.

We’re ten days in here. I’ve logged ten entries. I’m writing these words in ink, in my handmade notebook, because I want to hold them in my hands and remember these moments.

Here are my favorite five, so far:

1. In the bathroom sink, in the campground where I sometimes work, a bright green tree frog peeked out of the drain hole as I washed my hands. He sat perched in his porthole, blinking his copper-colored eyelids, curious, unafraid.

2. Driving home from work, just after 4:30, an early sunset. The sky was deep periwinkle over the ocean, golden in the west. The light in the lighthouse was already shining. When I stopped, there was the chirping and whistling of starlings, a murmuration that whirled in the sky.

3. A row of pelicans following the waves, cruising just above their crests in the mist. Brown feathers and whitecaps, the sun bright on their bellies. Somehow they move up and down with the rise and fall of the waves, never getting wet, always just a few inches above the whitecaps.

4. A flock of ducks flying overhead, toward the wildlife refuge. Big black ducks, chattering to each other as they pass over me, their bills glinting in the light. One flock, then another, and then another, coming from the ocean side, moving towards the sound.

5. Two young campers from Switzerland, a guy and gal filled with delight. They’ve rented a camper van that’s a swirl of red, yellow, and green, with enormous parrots painted on its sides. When they check out, the guy says, “I hope you have a beautiful day,” and I think to myself, I will do just that. I should do that every day. And I should help someone else to have a beautiful day.

To all the NaNoWriMo writers, I raise my glass to you. I’ll catch up with you next month, when my cross-training here is done. I’m ten days in and feel a little more like a my old self, like the engine wasn’t completely busted after all.