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Linda Barrett

Linda Barrett

Linda Barrett

Starting Over ~ A Book Club Evening

IN THE SPOTLIGHT–                

From my own book shelves, authors Emily Giffin, Bridget Asher, Barbara O'Neal

From my own book shelves, authors Emily Giffin, Bridget Asher, Barbara O’Neal

“I just love this type of book!”

When I heard those words at my book club Tuesday night, my heart sang. I felt myself smile. The woman was talking about MY kind of book. The kind I read and write. The type that appeals to women, explores family relationships, and provides an emotional ride based on a what-if reality. What if your child isn’t on the school bus at the end of the day?  What if you discover your husband has been having an affair? What if you find out you and your husband can’t have children?  What if a couple decides not to have children but one of them changes their mind? (Baby Proof by Emily Giffin).  What would you do in these situations? You can safely find out in the pages of a book as you struggle along with the characters who are facing these issues.

I love the James Bond stories. But, c’mon. Half the fun of James and his ladies is the eye candy. As for the plot – we  ride in the most nifty cars escaping the bad guys. It’s a hoot to watch, but then we go back to our everyday issues in our ordinary world.

Except sometimes a woman’s ordinary world is rocked, and that is the premise for the genre I’ve been talking about here: Women’s Fiction. In these novels, we follow the female protagonist’s journey through rocky waters as she navigates to her next plateau. Sometimes, a love interest might surprise her. ( Open House by Elizabeth Berg). She might be surrounded by a “cast of thousands,” — relatives, neighbors, co-workers — but it’s basically her story.

More from my shelves: authors Kathryn Shay, Barbara Delinsky and Elizabeth Berg.

More from my shelves: authors Kathryn Shay, Barbara Delinsky and Elizabeth Berg.

On Tuesday evening, I had a special interest in the book club discussion. The group–about twenty participants–had read Family Interrupted. My novel.  Disclaimer: the choice was not my idea. A few months ago, a new book list was being developed and boom! It was included. On the other hand, I didn’t nix the suggestion. As the proverbial fly on the wall, I thought I’d get some insights and discover how readers truly reacted both to the story itself and to the writing. Maybe I’d learn lessons I could apply to my next book.

Well, the fly-on-the-wall idea worked for about the first fifteen minutes. I kept my mouth shut, didn’t make eye contact with anyone, and actually wondered for how much longer I could play the part of a robot. It’s really hard trying to avoid eye contact for that long especially when sitting in a big square formation with people to the right, left and across.

I had wanted to disappear, have the gals to forget I was in the room and just listen as they talked about book. What a dumb idea that was! First of all, it didn’t work. After fifteen minutes, I joined the conversation. We were talking about family issues, after all, and I have opinions, too. I’m used to participating every month. Second of all – and this is more important – I sensed that these readers wanted me involved. This seemed logical to me. After all, how many times would a real, live author be present at these meetings? How many times would these readers be able to ask questions directly to the author of a book they’d just read?

So away we went. Some of the discussion followed the questions I’d provided at the back of the book. Why did the characters do this or that? Questions were raised about the story couple’s marriage. Readers wanted to know how I came up with the idea. And one admitted, “You made me grab for tissues several times!” Good. An author wants to tap into a reader’s emotions, wants the reader to care about the characters.

The question that came from me, the one  I always love to ask is, “What do you think happens after the book ends?” We actually talked about a sequel which amazed me because I’d never had that in mind! As an author who worries about everything, and who knows the issues I had to confront when writing the book, I asked a question that no one else considered important at all. “Did the verb tenses work? Did you get confused as time flashed back and then back again?” Verb tenses ate my lunch as I wrote the book (which is one reason I hire an editor). And yet,  here in front of my eyes, these gals laughed at me.

So I learned once more that a good story wins every time. And that I worry too much. I don’t think, however, that I’ll ever stop.

This one's also on my shelf! And in my e-reader.

This one’s also on my shelf! And in my e-reader.

As always, thank you so much for stopping by. I hope to see you for the next edition of Starting Over.

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P.S.  I’ll be sending out a newsletter on October 3rd.  If you’d like to get it–right into your in-box–you can sign up for it here on the website.

 

 

Starting Over ~ Family Stories

WORDS AND PICTURES — A TRUE TEAMfile0001743539956

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”  We’ve all heard that phrase so often, we take it as fact. But I say that without words, a picture can be lost forever in the mists of time. I’m talking here specifically about your family pictures.

I’m not the only one who’s recognized this truth. Legions of us have gazed at snapshots, either in an album or thrown into boxes and didn’t know who we were looking at. But it was an uncle. Or great-grandfather. Or your mom’s first cousin whom she remembers very well and with affection.. Sadly, you don’t know this lovely lady at all. And what about all those photos of the guys coming home from WWII? Now, WE will recognize our dads, but will our grandchildren know who these heroes are? And what they looked like?

I don’t know whether this idea of anonymous family members gathered in the ether as some ideas seem to, but suddenly a few years ago, creating scrapbooks become part of our popular culture. Everyone was doing it. The craft stores couldn’t keep enough stock on the shelves. And boy, were the choices pretty. Colorful, patterned, with space for pictures and WORDS.

Fast forward a few years to our digital world where, with the help of cell phones, everyone has become a photographer. They’ve discovered their inner shutter-bug. They’re so happy creating file000741571851 digital albums and preserving memories. I sincerely hope, however, they’re adding descriptions to each photo they take and save. Or one day, these current memories will also be forgotten in the mists of time.

In my world, the story comes first. Then I add a picture. Or a recipe. Or an item of remembrance. Before I became a published author, I wrote a series of stories about my family.Each one was a snapshot of family member, or an event, or a place. Most were combinations of the three. A couple of weeks ago, I shared the story of Real Grandmas with you. I’m hoping some of you will be inspired enough to try writing some family stories of your own. Don’t panic! I’m going to help. For right now though, and for illustration, here are some of the other titles and first lines from my binder, so you can understand what I mean by simple family stories:

Oh, You Kid!   My Uncle Sid was the Pied Piper in our family.

The Cop, The Commissioner and the Half-a-Doctor  (referring to my mom & her two sisters)

A Fine Romance – In a street length aquamarine dress and white netting in her hair, the bride file7371279077008nervously waited for the signal to walk down the hall to the large front room of the parlor floor where her wedding would be held. The year was 1945. (This is the story of my parents’ wedding. And, no, I wasn’t there!)

Visiting Murray – My cousin, Murray, viewed his profession as one-half art and one-half science flavored with a pinch of comedy. And that was why he was the best dentist in all of Brooklyn…

The stories continue for up to four pages at  most. They capture one idea, one event. You can do this!!  Members of my family who read these stories long after I’m gone will build a connection to their roots. They’ll have some answers to the age old question of “Where did I come from?”  Which I think really means, “Who am I? and Where do I fit in?”

No matter how many books I wrote, books that appeared on store shelves and in book clubs, my mom always insisted that my best book was the one of family stories. What do you think?

Next Tuesday, I’ll continue this thread of writing family stories and give you concrete ways to start out. And then we’ll decide whether to continue.  So, post comments!  Let me know if this idea appeals to you.

As always, thanks so much for stopping by. I hope to see you for the next edition of Starting Over.

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Starting Over ~ The Writing Life

hands on keyboardWRITERS ARE NOT LONELY…

All writers begin as readers. As a kid, I read voraciously. My weekly trips to the library are still etched in my mind’s eye. I felt rich with a pile of books in my arms! As I walked through the stacks, I occasionally wondered about the authors of my favorite books. I was happy NOT to be them. In fact, I felt sorry for them. Always alone in a room, writing, writing, writing. No friends to play with. No fun. I had a much better life 🙂

What does an eight-year-old know? When I’m engrossed in writing a story, I’m never alone. I’m never lonely.  My characters are alive, talking to me and I to them. The hours disappear and night falls. When I taught the adult GED class in Houston, I often wondered how the heck I arrived at my job. Daydreaming about my book people, I must have driven on automatic pilot because suddenly I was at work. Going home was no better, and I often missed my exit. Fortunately, I knew the roads very well, and couldn’t go fast due to the heavy traffic. I know, I know. That’s still a lousy excuse for a driver.

At a party one time, Mike and I were chatting with a small group of people. Sweetie said something–don’t remember what–and I replied: “What if the husband leaves her?”  A total non sequitor. Silence grew in our immediate circle. Quizzical expressions appeared on a few faces.

“What did you say? Who’s leaving their wife?”

Mike grinned, shook his head. Finally he put up his hands and said, “Nobody’s leaving anybody. She’s working on a book.”

The others nodded as if they understood, then flashed looks at each other. I recognized those kind of expressions. The guests thought I was crazy. I didn’t understand why. Other professionals, deep into their careers, think about work a lot. On weekends. At night. Maybe even behind the wheel…  Writers are no different.

I’m starting my writing career over, and I am not lonely!  How can writers be lonely when social media throws out tempting lures? Facebook. Twitter. Goodreads. Not to mention ordinary e-mail.  Loneliness has been banished for writers and everyone else. In fact, there are too many interruptions. Too many temptations. How many times have I promised myself a five minute Facebook break which turned into 45 minutes? I like catching up with my friends. I like sharing the latest about my own writing life or interesting items I’ve come across. So monitoring my on-line social time is a must.

I also love writing this blog and reading the comments you leave. It’s communication in another form. More intimate. More in-depth than some other social media. So, where do you fit? Are you lonely behind your computer? Distracted by too much on-line social life? Or have you managed to balance your time? If you have, please share your secrets!!

I appreciate your visits here and our conversations. If you leave a comment, you’ll be entered in a drawing for a free copy of Family Interrupted. Winning name drawn on April 30th and announced in the May 2nd blog. As Kristin Lamb says in her wonderful writing blog, Kristin Lamb’s Blog: We Are Not Alone “to show you my love, I’m giving away…”  She keeps her promises. So do I. 

Until next time,

Linda