Do You Have A Happy Place?

Not long ago my family teased me about going to bed so early. Okay, so they might have a point since technically I go “to bed” around 8:00—and in the summer months, that’s before the sun goes down. I also realize that’s when some people are just sitting down to dinner. In my defense, though, it’s all part of a wonderful routine I’ve established with my disabled son. He’s nineteen, but chronologically functions closer to a two-year old. I think of him as a handicapped version of Adam before the fall. He has absolutely no knowledge of evil, either doing something evil or thinking anyone else would do him evil, either.

Anyway, before I go farther off topic than that, my son comes with quite a bit of noise. He is the champion of “raspberries” which for him is a necessary sensory thing but for the rest of us is . . . well, annoying. A while back we introduced him to our Kindle Fire, so he can watch kid’s videos. And guess what? Putting on those earphones must be a balm to his sensory needs. It quiets him. Sadly, the earphones don’t seem to work during the day, when he can easily move from activity to activity. But by the end of the day he’s happy to be sitting comfy, and we’re happy to have him where he won’t drop the Kindle on a hard surface or . . . well, anyplace wet if you know what I mean.

So while he’s watching kids programming, I can read a book, work from my laptop or watch regular t.v. myself. My room has become my happy place, and our bed the “family bed” at least for a couple of hours on most nights. I suppose it’s a strange picture to imagine all of us together on this family bed: me with a book, my 19-year-old son with his Kindle and my husband either reading or watching something of his own choosing. But as a family with a handicapped loved one, it’s not the only strange picture we’ve created! More importantly, it’s the one time of day when we can enjoy the quiet. It’s a happy place for all of us.

Do you have a happy place? A room in your home or a favorite haunt that brings you peace? A place that offers comfort? Maybe it’s someplace outside of home, perhaps connected to special memories. Wherever it is, I hope you get to visit it often!

 

SH_Fall2014_coversUPDATED_200wP.S. On another note, I invite you to my website this Friday to take part in a Scavenger Hunt! The prizes are spectacular, from a Kindle Fire HD to books from 30 different Christian authors. The Hunt actually starts at noon (Mountain Time Zone) on Friday, October 17th and runs through Sunday, October 19th. It originates on Robin Lee Hatcher’s site. Many of us are running smaller contests within the Hunt, so it promises to be lots of fun – I hope you can join us!

Memoirs, Anyone?

I have a friend who reads almost no fiction. Although she isn’t much of a reader, when she does choose a book it’s either non-fiction or a memoir. I suppose she might secretly believe reading fiction is a waste of time, since it isn’t an account of actual happenings. Reading a novel, after all, takes a lot more time than escaping into a two-hour movie, so justifying that much time spent for pure enjoyment might not make it on the to-do list.

Being a fiction writer, I like to think there is a lot of truth between the pages of most novels. We can learn not only about various settings, historical or contemporary, familiar or exotic, but also about people and why they do things. Through fictional characters we can deepen our faith or expand our education, we can learn compassion for a different experience or point of view, feel emotions as we step into the shoes of someone entirely different from ourselves.

Memoirs can do this, too, but one thing I’ve come to warn myself when reading a memoir is that the author can fall into an easy pitfall – letting too much pride show, whether intentionally or not. In the memoir I’m reading now, the person is usually one step ahead of everyone else, recounting things that make her look just a tad bit better than those around her, either smarter, more selfless, or more brave. Of course memoirs are usually written by people who have admirers of one sort or another, so there is likely something to – well, admire – about that person to begin with. But when memoirs feel like the world spins with this person at its axis, that’s when a memoir stops working for me.

Maybe if more of us, myself included, ever wrote a story of our lives we too might be tempted to describe our experience as just a little bit better than reality. Or worse, depending upon the point of the memoir. We’re all so naturally self-centered, and of course memoirs feed this.

Can you guess I’m not the biggest fan of memoirs? I should probably apologize to those who love them. But there may be hope for me – perhaps I just haven’t read the right ones yet!

 

 

On My Reading Book Shelf by Maureen Lang

You can always tell a reader from a non-reader. Just say something like “I’m reading this really great book right now . . .” and watch their eyes sparkle with interest and hope to learn about a book they might like, too. Or else their eyes will glaze over and they’ll be quick to change the subject, unless they’re so polite they suffer through a topic they have absolutely no interest in.

But since this is a blog for readers, I can safely mention this topic knowing which kind of friend I’m talking to! I just finished this really great book. :-) It’s called The Whiskey Rebels, by David Liss. Basically it’s the tale of two main characters who live in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War. The author vividly created the era in my mind, filled it with fascinating characters that were at times brave or weak, cunning or heroic, loyal or selfish. The most delightful surprise for me was the self-deprecating humor in the male lead. If you like intricate plots and schemes that have no less than America’s early days as a teetering nation on the line, you’ll like this novel.

I also recently finished Her Royal Spyness, the first in a series of mysteries by Rhys Bowen. It’s set in the UK in the 1930s, an entertaining portrayal of an impoverished British Royal (34th in line to the throne, but still . . .) who must clear her brother from a murder charge. I don’t normally like series books, especially when I have to wait any length of time for the next in the series. But since these books have been out for a while, I can satisfy my impatience and jump right in to the rest of the books in line. They promise a fun mystery with just enough romance to keep this romance reader happy, and a heroine even this ordinary American can somehow identify with.

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I also have a number of nonfiction books to be read, research material for future writing projects. Among them are titles like Smoldering City, Chicago and the Great Fire (1871-1874) by Karen Sawislak, and The Gospel of Germs by Nancy Tomes. I may not read these kinds of books from cover to cover, just enough as time permits to learn more about each historical era or setting to add texture to the novels I’m planning. I know so much history is at our fingertips online, but I love having a book in front of me, my own that I can underline or take notes from. Somehow it lasts a little longer in my head that way. :-)

 

That’s it for now, but like you I’m sure, I’m always adding books to my to-be-read pile. So, Happy Reading!

 

 

God’s View by Maureen Lang

This summer I was blessed to visit one of the most beautiful places in the world: Victoria, British Columbia. The trip was amazing—and for so many reasons. To start with, my expenses were paid by a wonderful organizations called Caregifted. My cousin actually heard about Caregifted before I did. She attended graduate school in Colorado and learned from her Alumni magazine that one of her colleagues started a foundation with the goal to provide respite for long-term family caregivers. Many people don’t realize how many of us are out here, since a hefty portion of our lives are spent in relative isolation. (It’s just so much easier to stay home with a severely handicapped loved one than to go out where so many things can go wrong.)

And so when I heard about Caregifted, I immediately submitted the necessary paperwork to be considered. Much to my delight, I was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to beautiful Victoria. We paid for my husband to come along, since the trip is awarded to the main caregiver only, but needless to say the expense and the planning was made easily doable because of Caregifted’s generosity and vision.

Victoria, I was told by a resident, is Canada’s Florida. The weather is always mild, it rarely rains in the summer (although you wouldn’t know that to look at the incredible gardens everywhere) and they offer all kinds of attractions. Whale watching, castle tours, museums, shopping!, a Victorian tea, a vast selection of the best restaurants ever, and the most beautiful gardens anywhere.

I wanted to mention the gardens in particular, because Butchart Garden has come to mind so often since having been there. It is a place of true respite. Except for paths paved in limestone rather than gold, I thought it must be a lot like Heaven. Colors more vibrant than I imagined and in every variety. Incredible designs, every plant so healthy I think they must snip off a leaf or petal the moment it starts to wilt. When I first saw the pictures I assumed it had been enhanced somehow, but having been there to see it in person I know it’s real.

Butchart Gardens is the result of Jennie Butchart’s vision and hard work. Her husband, a cement magnate, mined limestone to use in his cement factory in the early 1900s. When the quarry was mined out, leaving only one large section untouched in the center because it was inferior quality, Jennie had the idea to make a garden of what was then just a big, rather ugly hole in the ground—smoke stacks of the factory looming above. She brought in countless wagon loads of black dirt from surrounding farmland, even did some planting herself. She tucked dirt and ivy along the steep edges of the quarry and on the remaining block of limestone in the middle so the result would be a stunning display of living beauty no matter where a visitor’s gaze traveled.

Sunken_Garden_BeforeAbove is actually a picture of a picture that my husband took at the garden, showing the history of the spot. You can see the early planning of the garden, with a pathway, a small original arborvitae bush to the left (one of two on each side of the path) and the design around the remaining stand of limestone. The white pillars in the background were later removed, two of five smokestacks used to make cement. Only one smoke stack remains today, not pictured, a tribute to the garden’s history.

And this is what the sunken garden looks like today:

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The colors are every bit as beautiful as depicted here, in this photo from the Butchart Garden website. Over a million bedding plants are on display every year! Beside the sunken garden shown here, they have an incredible rose garden, a peaceful Japanese garden, a formal Italian garden, and the loveliest array of hanging plants I’ve ever seen.

These two pictures remind me of how God might view us, because of His incomprehensible love for us. I don’t know anything about Jennie Butchart except for the amazing garden she left behind. But I wondered if she worked under divine inspiration when she had her idea for the garden. What the world might see as just a worthless, mined-out hole in the ground, God sees as beautiful. Jennie’s garden seems to me a perfect example of how God might view each of us right now.

And so my summer respite continues, every time I recall one of the loveliest spots on earth.

Is it better to love a reader?

256px-Photograph_of_a_man_and_a_woman_reading_a_bookThe other day while I was out with my daughter, my son-in-law texted her a link describing the many benefits of falling in love with a reader. As you might guess (or know if you’ve read past posts of mine) my daughter is the very definition of an avid reader. So after I sighed with delight over the sentiment expressed in the text itself, I listened with interest as she read the article aloud.

Basically it poses the idea that voracious readers experience life through “deep reading” – in other words, when we’re immersed in a story world we experience a wide spectrum of emotion, learning to see the world not just through our own eyes but through the eyes of a vast array of characters. We become them, and can often understand and then articulate multiple sides while still maintaining our own set of beliefs and values.

This is, of course, the goal of every writer: to create characters so real that when our heroine’s heart thuds at the sight of her hero, the reader’s heart pounds along too. As the first reader of whatever we’re writing, if we writers experience what the characters do, it’s a good bet the reader will go along for the ride. Books that create the ride are a success.

The article itself might be a little fanciful, giving too much credit exclusively to readers (after all, I believe non-readers can be objective, well-versed and empathetic, too). And the title is misleading; it’s not terribly scientific article despite a few links; it’s merely this writer’s opinion. I was, however, surprised at the variety of comments—many supportive, but at least half if not more were offended by the way the article was written. I found that interesting, that people would object to an article extolling the benefits of reading when nearly everyone agrees it’s a good thing. Perhaps the topic caught on among those “skimmers” the article laments are taking the place of deep readers. The original article that inspired this post was from a Time magazine article, and that one evoked only positive responses.

See for yourself! Click here to read the article.

Do you have a sad-meter for your entertainment?

512px-Locomotive_speed_meters_1Sometimes when I’m home with my handicapped son—who requires just enough attention to make impossible doing anything that needs uninterrupted focus—I scan the free movies available from Amazon prime. Even earphones don’t blot out my son’s happy noises, and when I sit in the kitchen I’m right where he wants me most of the time, handily available near the food he likes.

So watching a movie or reading a book is something that can be interrupted without too much frustration. My Amazon search led me to a movie I hadn’t heard of before, The High Cost of Living. It sounded interesting while at the same time a buzz sounded in my head over one review, something like: “it’s a sad movie but I found myself still thinking of the characters the next day.” Usually when a movie or book makes enough of an impact to stay with an audience after the final credits or last page, that means it’s a success.

But that one word . . . sad . . . was the source of the alarm clanging in my head. I’m not sure if it was my mood or if I just generally don’t want to watch something sad (I tend to think it’s the latter) but it took me a while to decide giving the movie a try. I decided to watch it for ten or fifteen minutes and then if I didn’t like the characters enough to risk them tearing my heart to pieces, I’d go back to searching for something else.

I ended up watching the entire movie. And yes, it was sad. But it was compelling, too. At one point one of the characters wonders how it happens that a person can think of themselves in one way, as one sort of person, but because of decisions we’ve made along the way that person we think we are isn’t at all how the world views us. Maybe we’re not who we thought we were. I found that fascinating, and the character portraying this dilemma absolutely convincing.

And yet, once the final credits did roll, while I was glad to have seen the movie and agree that the characters were likely to ramble around in my head for a while, I have to add this movie to others I’ve seen that I’d rather not watch again. I can watch comedies, musicals, and romantic tales again and again, even to the point of knowing the next line. But sad movies go on a shelf somewhere, tucked away, not forgotten but having little hope of being visited again. I have a Pinterest page with such movies, and it’s one of my briefest I think because my sad-meter warns me away.

Do you have a sad-meter? Or perhaps a violence-meter, or some other aspect you’d rather not read or view?

Memories

The other day while looking for something in a drawer that I seldom open, I came across an old cassette tape my mother made for my son a few years before she died. I’d forgotten about it around the time cassette players gave way to our digital age, and so I haven’t heard it in years. After looking for an old player that would accommodate the nearly obsolete technology, I slipped in the tape and voila! there was my mother’s voice, a sound I haven’t heard for such a long time.

It was, of course, a bittersweet moment. She had a lovely voice and since this tape was intended for my handicapped son, a child who even then she knew wouldn’t progress past the functional level of a toddler, she sang a variety of lullabies familiar to him. She also told a few stories that I remember her telling to me when I was a child.

I’ve often attributed to my mom my desire to write stories. When I was very young my mother proved that while a lot of wonderful stories come from between the pages of a published book, that’s not the only place they can be found. They all start in someone’s head. Perhaps not surprisingly, my favorite stories were the ones that came from my mother’s imagination. The pictures her words drew in my mind seemed every bit as detailed as the full-color illustrations in books bought in a store.

Ever since then I’ve longed to transfer pictures from my own imagination to others. Discovering the lost tape reminded me why.

One last note about my discovery of this tape. While I was listening to it, my husband was out running an errand. He called to let me know there was a beautiful double rainbow in the sky, so I ran out to see it. I went back inside with a smile, thinking God still sends messages in rainbows. With perfect timing, He was reminding me I’d see my mom again someday.

Fun Gift for Book-lovers

This past weekend my daughter gave me a Mother’s Day gift that confirmed my belief that I’d raised a book-lover like myself (as if I needed such confirmation!).

Beyond the obvious that this is a good-sized, really sturdy tote bag, it has the added fun of being a visual representation of one of our favorite fictional characters: Anne of Green Gables.

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The design consists of tiny little words from the actual novel!*

 

 

 

 

 

 

My daughter really is a natural bookworm. She’s loved reading as long as I can remember –  however it’s a special memory to recall the first time she read Anne of Green Gables. When Matthew dies (I hope that’s not a spoiler for some who haven’t read it!) my daughter had tears running down her face. That was the first time I knew she’d be a life-long reader, because she allowed the characters a place so real in her heart that it moved her to tears.

That is, of course, the goal of every writer. We invite our readers in and hope they become so deeply immersed into our story world that it leaks out into the real world through tears, laughter, a sigh, raised brow, quickened pulse, or some other expression that’s as tangible as the book in their hands.

*For other designs from the classics, visit Litographs.

Forgiveness

A natural element in both Christian fiction and non-fiction deals with forgiveness. It’s a popular topic, with the promise that forgiveness helps not just the one being forgiven but also the person doing the forgiving.

I was reminded of this theme over the weekend when I saw the movie The Railway Man, a story of a man who survived being a POW during the Second World War, when he was also tortured by his Japanese captors. It was a movie I wasn’t sure I wanted to see, not because of the grim subject matter but because my own father was a POW of the Japanese as well. I wasn’t sure I wanted a visual representation of some of the things he went through.

To be sure, it wasn’t easy to watch young men being herded into cattle cars under a sweltering sun and transported for who-knows-how-long on yet another version of the Death March my father traveled. The beatings, the slave labor, the general shaming each prisoner met were all common stories from camps like the ones my father endured.

512px-Giving_a_sick_man_a_drink_as_US_POWs_of_Japanese,_Philippine_Islands,_Cabanatuan_prison_campI recalled my father saying to me some time before he died that if he’d had the chance he’d have returned to the Philippines (where he was taken) and then to Manchuria where he spent another long segment of time during his POW experience. Although I couldn’t understand why, this must have been a rather common feeling. The movie touched on this as a part of healing as well.

Since the war ended, China has preserved the very POW camp that housed my father. Obviously my father wasn’t the only POW who wanted to return to the scene of such a devastating time in his life.

My dad was one of the strong, silent types as so many of his generation were. To the end of his life he suffered bouts of malaria, one of several diseases afflicting those who were malnourished and kept in appalling conditions at such camps as Bilibid and Cabanatuan before being transferred on the “Hell Ship” Tottori Maru to Mukden, Manchuria where he was used as unpaid labor until the end of the war.

I often think about the things he endured, because it somehow makes the comparatively trivial challenges I face easier to deal with. But this was the first time I wondered how my father felt about forgiveness toward those who held him captive.

What do you think? If you’d been held for 3 1/2 years of your life, do you think forgiveness would come . . . with time? In fiction we often remind our characters that withholding forgiveness only hurts the one hanging on to the pain. I do know, somewhere along the way, my father let go of any anger or bitterness he might have held. He said his time served was done in the name of his country; he wasn’t alone; he mattered. He went on to live what I saw as a productive, happy life. He wasn’t often haunted by his memories that I could tell, perhaps partly because he’d been so young at this time of his life. The only time I saw any resentment toward the Japanese was when I was older and brought home a Toyota. All he said was that he’d wished I bought American. :-)

The Sound of Musical Writing

Gclef_A1_1-4The other day I happened to be reminded of an old memory of my husband listening to the radio as he painted the walls along our basement stairs. The host was reading a school lunch menu . . . in French. Suddenly chicken or macaroni and cheese sounded sooo much more appetizing!

That reminded me of another memory of an old friend of mine, a fellow writer who also happened to have been an actress and TV journalist at various times in her life. She’s lovely, for one thing, but beside that possesses a voice that certainly added to her value in front of an audience, live or on the air. When she was writing, she would bring her manuscript to our critique group and read it aloud. Instantly, we would be swept up in the world she created with words and sound.

Finally, recently I listed to the audio version of Susanna Kearsley’s The Firebird. The story was well researched, the characters sympathetic and appealing, the plot with romantic elements well structured. But I think what I appreciated every bit as much as the writing was the performance of the narrator. She was completely convincing in each of the accents—British, Scot, Russian, even an American thrown in for good measure. I was right there in the world she created for me, even when she read the parts of the male characters.

I say all of this because sometimes the sound of words can so enhance the words themselves that it’s fun to read them aloud from time to time! Granted, the performance might make a difference, or the rhythm of the words themselves. I’m imagining how nice my work-in-progress might sound if I heard it in French or if someone with a rich voice and no fear of emoting did the reading. But as I recall another detail from my voice-talented friend, I didn’t want her to read my manuscript at our writer’s group because I knew she would make it sound better than it was, and I wouldn’t get the constructive criticism I was looking for. So there is definitely a right time, at least for a writer, to have our work performed.

But as readers, I think it’s a fun exercise to read a scene or two aloud from whatever book we’re enjoying, if only to let our ears enjoy the sound of musically written words.

A Trouble Antidote posted by Maureen Lang

512px-Candle_or_SorrowEven Jesus acknowledged in Matthew Chapter 6 that troubles are part of life, and I have yet to meet anyone who hasn’t faced some kind of challenge.

 

There are many ways to deal with our troubles.

 

We can ignore them. This is, after all, a blog for readers and reading is one of the best escapes I can think of. While we all benefit from the refreshing elements of temporary escapism, a wise billboard outside a local dentist office once taught me: Your teeth are the only things that will go away if you ignore them.

 

We can wallow in our troubles. This includes regular pity parties, a face more accustomed to frowning than smiling, eventual isolation and perhaps bitterness. Isolation because who wants to spend time with a sour puss and bitterness when we realize no one wants to spend time with a sour puss.

 

Spend endless hours and countless dollars in therapy about our troubles, trying to fix it on our own. This could reap some benefits but might also bankrupt us and does run the risk of too much self-absorbtion after a while. I’m not suggesting therapy isn’t a good idea, but it’s not the answer to every form of disappointment in life. Sometimes it’s just hard to find a good therapist we can afford, especially since many of our troubles have a spiritual element.

 

We can give our troubles to someone else. This antidote sounds nice, doesn’t? Just hand over our problems and let someone else do the wrestling. The problem with this, if we can find such a hero or heroine to accept the burden, is that no one else likely cares quite the way we do, and the answer they come up with may not be best for us.

 

Or we can hand them over to God. Like so many Christian platitudes this is something we hear but the meaning is lost. Surrendering our trouble to God takes a combination of faith, trust, and conscious effort. It’s easy to go through the steps. Pray about something, telling God we’re handing over the issue, and will wait on His answer. But a little while later we take up the worry again. So we start the process over, only this time we add a little guilt to the mix because we obviously didn’t do it right the first time, or at least didn’t have enough faith to wait.

 

For me, the best way to get through a tough issue is to remember that this isn’t a faith issue. I may not have the faith of an apostle, but all that’s needed is a mustard seed size and I’m pretty sure I have at least that much.

 

Faith is the foundation to this antidote, even tiny, itsy-bitsy faith, but that’s not where it ends. We can find comfort in the Bible even with wobbling faith, reminding ourselves of the promises God has made for our future and our hope (Jer 29:11, Prov 3:5-6, Rom 8:28). Make time to collect a list of God’s promises.

 

The next thing to do while waiting for Him to answer, in action or direction, is to remember what God has done in the past—in the big areas, of course, like creating a world as extensively, amazingly, astonishingly gorgeous and complex as the one we live in. Dive into the proof of God’s love that’s right at our doorstep.

 

And then we should look at the smaller stuff. For me, God proved His love a long time ago when I first realized there was more to life than just my own plans. We have a Savior who was willing to die for us so we can look forward to heaven. He’s loved me through my own rebellions, fears, and mistakes. He’s provided practical gifts too, like a roof and clothing and enough food to eat. And He’s given me ample opportunities to rejoice with other kinds of gifts: beautiful birds to admire when I look out my window; books to read and to write; friends to love; people and other resources to experience the joy of learning and growing. Best of all, I have a wonderful husband, a precious family who needs me and a church I love.

 

I guess what it boils down to is a song from one of my favorite Christmas movies. I know April is hardly the time to be thinking about a season that comes with cold weather and snow when we just finished one of the worst winters in recent memory, but do you remember the song Bing Crosby sang to Rosemary Clooney in the movie White Christmas? Some of the lyrics went something like this: When you’re troubled and you can’t sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep.

 

So that’s my advice for getting through tough times: Remember God’s love by counting your specific blessings, entrust the outcome based on what the Bible promises and remember the positive things He’s done for you in your own, personal past.

The Little Joys by Maureen Lang

512px-Colours_of_Happiness_3The other day I had a brief email chat with a friend about the emotional life most writers experience. Writers as a group generally tend to be on the sensitive side. My friend mentioned how hard it is to open yourself up to possible rejection, which is a feeling all writers experience in one way or another sooner or later. My first reaction was to remind her God didn’t necessarily create us just so we could be happy. If that were the case then everyone would come to God just for the happy bucket and faith would be unnecessary.

I also reminded her of the old Campus Crusade pamphlet with the image of a train. The locomotive/engine is Fact (The Word of God) and the coal car fueling that fact is Faith. Emotions come last, as the little caboose tagging along for life’s ride.

As soon as I finished minimizing the importance of our emotional lives, I remembered that she happens to be writing a wonderful book on Joy – a very real human emotion. Of course God does want us to have an abundant life (John 10:10), and Paul set an example for us to learn to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11). In fact, one of the fruits of the spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22). So obviously part of life is to experience emotion. Emotions can be a great blessing.

But our culture seems to see happiness as the most important thing in life. Ask many parents nowadays what they want for their children and a number of them would probably say they just want their kids to be happy. Is that really the most important thing we should hope for our children? What about a faith-filled, responsible life of integrity? Wouldn’t happiness come as a result of a fruitful, meaningful life—as a byproduct, so to speak, of a life well lived?

I guess I’m thoughtful about happiness because it’s easy to fall into a trap. Eat this, it’ll make you happy. Watch this movie, it’ll leave you happy. Buy this product, it’ll make you happy. Even . . . dare I say this to another faithful reader: read this book, it’ll bring you happiness.

That’s all well and good, and some of those promises may come true, at least on a temporary basis. But I still maintain that happiness shouldn’t be our main goal in life. Sometimes eating the wrong thing that tastes good is bad for us. Or watching a movie that doesn’t fill our mind with the best images, or buying something we can’t afford, or even reading a book that might not be something we should let muddy our minds. Happiness can sometimes be self-indulgent.

However, I didn’t start this post with the idea of chastising anyone, myself included. I’m not even sure I’m totally on board a train analogy that puts so little value in emotions, since we were obviously created as emotional beings. Emotions, if we can, should be filtered through fact and reason, but they certainly play a huge part in every human life.

I was thinking about a little joy I felt today when a book was delivered to my door. It’s just want I need to help me research my current project. When the Postal Truck pulled up I watched with interest as she put a few things into the postal box on the road . . . but when I saw her add that flat cardboard container I burst into a full-fledged smile. My book arrived!

Ah, those little joys in life shouldn’t be taken for granted, should they?

Are Readers Seeing The Change?

Lately there has been so much talk about the changes in the publishing world that it seemed as if everyone must see those changes. Perhaps the Internet was the beginning, with a move from brick and mortar stores to online retailers, including the ready availability of reviews by which many readers decide whether or not to purchase. The opportunity to move from exclusively paper bound books to digital reading was the next big shift, leading to further consolidation of publishers. It’s also led to price changes; cover changes to fit a digital market; a growing number of small publishers; a growing number of self-publishers as well as writers who work with publishers and who also self-publish. The list of changes can go on and on and on.

But if I were to talk to my sister, an avid reader who cares only about a good read and not at all about the business end of things, she would say she wasn’t even aware of many things on that list. She enjoys digital books, more reader-friendly prices, but that’s about it. How do I know this? Because when she mentions a good book to me and I ask about details, all she can tell me is the title and the author. She notices book covers but it doesn’t get in the way if she doesn’t like it, especially if someone has recommended the book to her. She likes having a book loaned to her (harder to do in digital format) but likes not paying full price for trade or worse, hardback prices.

She has never cared about which publisher puts out a book, whether it’s traditionally or independently published, whether it’s a translation or not, even whether it’s a bestseller or not. She only cares about the story.

When talking to other readers, it seems obvious they don’t care much about the business end of things, either. In fact, these days many readers assume if you’ve written a book you must have paid to put it out there. If they learn a “real” publisher paid for everything the next assumption is that the writer has made a lot of money from the project.

When I talk to other writers, though, everyone feels the ground shifting beneath us. For the most part writers seem to be optimistic, at least the ones I’ve talked to. Going “indie” has some appeal (self-publishing) particularly for writers who already have a few readers looking for a particular author’s next book, a ready-made audience. I’m not sure publishers or agents feel quite as optimistic, but the fact is traditional publishing continues to hold a certain amount of status, meticulous editing (most of the time), wonderful covers (most of the time), better distribution (most of the time).

That status, though, is mainly noticed among writers. Readers just want a good story!

Am I right?

Daily Progress

I have a friend who set a daily writing goal of 1,000 words per day. For her that means fiction writing, so a blog post like this wouldn’t count, or any other social networking writing. A thousand words per day may not sound very daunting, at least to those who can whip out 10,000 or more on a good day. That’s not to say she doesn’t have some days when she’ll write far more words and spend the following day with other pursuits. But the average goal must be met because it’s really 365,000 words in a year that she’s after—meaning several projects can be completed.

My daughter used to read a book a day when she took public transportation to and from work. She had an hour-long bus ride in the morning, another hour in the evening, and often an entire hour at lunch that she could spend reading. She would also finish her day with a book at home after dinner or before bed. For a fast reader like her, she could finish even a hefty book in a day or two.

I’m neither a fast writer nor a fast reader. My personal goal for writing is around 2,000 words per day, but I rarely work weekends because there are just too many distractions, and I take a sabbath rest from sundown Saturday until sundown Sunday. But for me, that’s enough progress to feel like I’m accomplishing something—and entire books do get finished this way.

For reading, I save that for the end of my day. There are some days when I read only a page or two before my eyelids get heavy, but there are others (particularly on weekends!) when I can read quite a chunk. I’m certainly not reading the number of books my daughter read when she had three+ hours per day, but I still escape into another world on a regular basis and benefit from it in so many ways (enjoyment, education, honing my own love of the craft)512px-Two_people_rock_climbing.

We all define progress in our own way; what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. But if we make time for the things that are important to us, progress is bound to happen.

So carve out a little time for the things that are important to you. Progress happens!

Surviving hibernation with a good book!

IMG_0228Our yard has pretty much looked like this all winter . . . which  means the roads are often slick and the temps are below freezing. I end up staying home whenever possible.

This might be torture for some, but heaven for skiers—and readers like me! I have the luxury of being surrounded by books nearly all of the time, and this winter is no exception. I’m reading research books for my current writing project, a couple of books I received for Christmas, books I’m judging for a contest, book club books, books that were written by friends, even audio books I enjoy on my iPhone or for those times I really do have to drive and can listen in the car as I go so slowly along the snowy roads. As an avid reader, I couldn’t be happier—especially since this winter has been so cold, snowy, and loooong (it’s still January!).

How do non-readers who don’t ski or like winter get through it? I know there are more entertainment choices than ever out there, but I couldn’t imagine not wanting to escape into a good book. No more snowy roads to worry about! Just grab a blanket and snuggle down to be swept away into another world.

Speaking of entertainment choices, in this day and age there are more books than ever to choose from. Several of the books I’ve enjoyed lately have been self-published, which is broadening my choices even more than I expected. My goodness, how self-published books have changed! While I still haven’t raved over the cover art on many and I’ve occasionally spotted areas where a good editor would have come in handy, I realize that’s just me being nit-picky. I’m so used to critiquing my own work as well as the work coming up in my critique circles that I can’t turn off the editor in me. But I’m fairly sure someone who reads purely for enjoyment wouldn’t even notice some of the things that cross my mind. As a writer, though, reading self-published books released by established writers (those already having worked with traditional publishers) is fascinating. It’s like getting to read their writing in its purest form, without any other voice influencing it—sometimes for worse but very often for better. It’s a great study in the truest presentation of that writer’s voice; I guess I feel like I’m getting to know them even better than I would have otherwise.

So today I’m celebrating hibernation, because it’s such a good excuse to read, and I have more books at my fingertips than ever!

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