Do Writers Need Book Clubs?

June 28, 2011

The Avid Readers Book Club celebrated its 15th year last month. In that time, we have read a mix of fiction and nonfiction. We’ve explored classics, mysteries, thrillers, romance, memoirs, and science fiction. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve suffered through.
Book groups offer two invaluable tools to writers. First and foremost, these sessions provide the reader’s perspective on a book from a variety of viewpoints. My group’s tastes are diverse and often opinionated. Our meetings can be emotionally-charged debates or more about the food and wine depending on how successful the writer connected with the reader. From these discussions, my writer persona has gleaned what works and what doesn’t.
The other advantage a book group offers a writer is the book selections. I am of the opinion that to write well, a writer must read. I have read books I would have never picked up. Being in a book club has forced me to persevere through novels I’d never have finished. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as valuable to a writer as what does.
Of course, my book group is more than a study in reading and writing. These are my friends and I value their thoughts and perspectives. Some people have come and gone throughout the years, some founding members remain, others went to one meeting and didn’t stick, but every person has taught me something about reading, writing, and even about myself. I wonder what the next 15 years will bring?

Raising Llamas

June 13, 2011

When I was in my 20s, I dreamed of raising llamas. I envisioned myself on a quiet ranch in Montana or Wyoming. I would walk into lush green fields surrounded by long-necked pack animals sporting a myriad of colors. Brown, red, black, white in solids as well as every imaginable pattern of splotchy magnificence. When I reflect on this now, I shake my head. What was I thinking?

This fantasy was so far outside reality that is laughable. For instance, in my imagined world, my llamas would never spit, they would succumb to clippers without a fuss, and they would never get sick or die. Of course, the weather was sunny every day and I would rise sometime around 10 a.m. There would never be a day where I would slog through snow or mud; no animal waste to step over or in.

This has everything and nothing to do with writing. On the one hand, I am no longer that twenty-something dreamer.  The breadth of my life experiences has, without a doubt, made me a better writer. On the other hand,  wide-eyed innocence and a romanticizing spirit could still provide the stuff of great fiction, if I still possessed it. Yet, would I exchange my seasoned perspective for a llama-ranch fantasy life? Not in a million years.

The Shakespeare Challenge

June 10, 2011

I recently set up a webpage on redroom (  

A blog challenge was issued and I took the bait.  What would Shakespeare blog?  I took Shakespeare quotes, sprinkled in words here and there, and here’s the final result:

The Bard’s Blog  

To blog or not to blog, that is the question.   I have taken a lean and hungry look and my heart hath said, be not afraid.  Here’s ado to lock up honesty.  Here lies a king of infinite space.  Here in this new world, I may be as constant as the northern star.  Here is where I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you.   A feast of languages lay before me.  So here I shall blog, tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.   There shall never be a long farewell to all my greatness.

Unbroken: A Review

June 7, 2011

I finished Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand last night. Where do I begin? I thought I knew a little bit about WWII. I knew nothing. I thought I knew a little about POW’s and Post Traumatic Stress. I was wrong. 

Laura Hillenbrand has once again created a masterpiece. This amazing book ranks as one of the best books I have ever read. Why? Could it be the way she captured my heart with the descriptions of little Louie Zamperini? He seemed so tough yet so lovable.  Maybe it reminded me of the stories I’d heard from my own mother–who grew up in an Italian-American family with older brothers and cousins in pre-war Connecticut. Could it be the remembrance of the closeness, love and emotion that I grew up with in my traditional family?  

The portrayed emotions in the book are full and real:  From the joy, ecstasy, and arrogance that come from winning in sporting contests to the depths of humiliation, desperation and ruin that come from war. We see through Laura’s writing the pain families suffer when loved ones are lost to us. And the struggles of one day believing a son is alive to bearing the burden of being told he is lost at sea, dead…but never knowing for sure. 

We experience through the accounts of survivors the brutality of living as a POW in WWII Japan. Some of it would be incomprehensible and hard to believe were it not for the painstaking bibliography and immaculate citations of this fine author who left no stone unturned to assure accuracy. 

In the descriptions of family life, including the pot of sauce on the stove being prepared by a devoted Italian mamma, I adopted this family into my heart.  I experienced a lifetime in 398 pages.  I lived and breathed the book for the week it took me, morning noon and night, fitting in a page or paragraph at every break in the work day. And when it ended, I flipped right back to the beginning.  

I now know Louie Zamperini, his family, and his beautiful and courageous wife who refused to let him go down in despair, and thus saved his life yet one more time.  I loved his friends and fellow POW’s, and I hated his tormentors. 

What a book!