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Word for the day: Busy: back to writing a novel again! 10/19/16

Household Tip: When you get the mail, take the time to handle it all right away. Yes, even filing what you want to keep. 10/20/16

Word for the Day: Weekend: Coming up. Let’s relax a little! 11/4/16

BOOKS READ, SEPTEMBER, 2016

I’ve decided to list the books I’ve read in the last month on the first Wednesday of every month with some thoughts about each one. My favorite of the month will be listed first in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing. The rest are in no particular order. Last month I said I would only list those that I consider to be at least worth four stars on Amazon. The vast majority of books I read rate that many stars because I look for authors I like already, best-selling authors, and/or for plot lines given in descriptions and reviews that interest me.

*****

What a mixed bag this month. Two books with “girl” in the titles, and I’ve already read two before with “girl” in the title, and have one more on my Kindle. I hope we’ve come to the end of that trend. A couple of speculative books that didn’t quite do it for me, and a couple with rather poor endings. Yet there were none I could say I detested. Somewhat disappointed is a better way to put it. But I broke my 4-5 star rule—a couple of these would only earn 3 stars from me.

When Krishna Calls by Susan Oleksiw

First I have to say, the setting, Kerala, in Southern India, is so well-drawn, I felt as if I were there.

The main character, photographer Anita Ray, half-American, half-Indian, is engaging and determined.

The story begins with a mother named Nisha leaving her daughter in the back courtyard of the hotel Anita and her Auntie Meema run. Anita decides to hide the child until she learns more about what’s going on. The police arrive and tell her the child’s father has been murdered, and they suspect the child’s mother, who has disappeared. Nisha worked part-time at the hotel, and Anita does not believe she killed her husband. So she begins to investigate.

This story has many twists and turns and kept me flipping the pages. It also had one of the best, most satisfying endings I’ve ever read. Review posted to Amazon and Goodreads. Highly recommended.

when-khrishna-callsLittle Nothing by Marisa Silver

First of all, this book is categorized as “magical realism.” Which means there is magic involved, and that it’s supposed to seem real, I guess. My problem is that this kind of story has never seemed real. I can never put away my suspension of disbelief, no matter how hard I try. But every once in a while, I try again.

This book is a fabulous one in so many ways. If you enjoy magical realism, I think you’ll really like it. But if you’re skeptical, you’ll have some trouble understanding the main character because the plot sort of overtakes her characterization. I got more of her mother’s and potential lover’s feelings than I did hers. And the ending was too vague for me, so that was a disappointment. The main takeaway I need to give you is that I wanted to finish this book—it has so many good points: The writing, the setting, some of the characters, and the overall plot.
So this is one of the most conflicted reviews I’ve ever written. Perhaps I should give up on speculative fiction. But I keep hoping.

Never Con a Corgi by Edie Clair

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It has a lot of positive things going for it—humor, great characters, a mystery. But from the title, I expected a lot more about the dog and how it helped solve the murder. Actually, the daughter of the main character did most of that work. That said, I think a lot of people would enjoy this light read.

5,000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox

This was short. It could have been shorter. But at last I found out how so many writers write so many words and publish so much every year. You cannot type 5,000 words in an hour, and even a couple of thousand. So, what’s the secret? Dictation.

The Promise by Robert Crais

The book confused me because it’s billed as an Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel, but neither character was the major player here. Scott and his K-9 were really he main characters. That wasn’t a bad thing, but overall, considering how huge Crais’s reputation is, I was disappointed in this novel. Maybe better to read an earlier one or two. PS: One of the ugliest covers I’ve ever seen.

Twisted Threads by Lea Wait

I was enjoying this because I love to do needlepoint and even have a very old sampler done by a relative handed down from others. But I have no idea how the amateur sleuth figured out who dun it. The threads were not joined together to show us her thought process. She talked to one person, then all of a sudden she’s off to see another, then another with no internal thoughts. So, you might like to read this because it’s fun otherwise. Just be warned about the improbable ending.

The Girl Before by JP Delany

So unusual and intriguing. Two female points of view with alternating chapters, which works well. Unfortunately told in present tense. Often unnoticeable, but that device sometimes jerks me out of a story whereas using past tense never does. Anyway, both women get to live in an award-winning house that is run entirely by computers. The architect/owner is very strange. The women have had horrifying experiences before moving in and so are vulnerable. All three facts lead to a fascinating story. I’d give it five stars except for some faddish writing bits and the overall improbability.

The Third Girl by Nell Godden

It is hard to review this book. I liked quite a lot about it, but it tried to be both suspense and cozy at the same time, skipping around rather erratically. Also, the main character, a young woman, knowing there’s a killer of young women on the loose, goes off on walks and hikes by herself in a place she just moved to a few days before after buying, on-line, property in France. And she hardly knows any French. In the end she escapes the killer, of course, but we never see how that happens on the page—we’re told about it the next day when she describes it. There are three murders mentioned, but only two solved; the one not solved didn’t even need to be in the book. A lot of improbable stuff. On the other hand, I loved the setting, the main character was interesting, as were some of the other characters, and I finished it. Always a good sign.

The Bitter Season by Tami Hoag

Unusual, convoluted read. Overall I liked it, although much was improbable, and lately I’m seeing a lot of books with amazing coincidences, even in ones when the detective says, “There is no such thing as coincidences,” or “I don’t believe in coincidences.” Of course there are coincidences—I’ve run into many extraordinary and many minor ones in my lifetime. But I don’t think more than one in a novel is a good idea. This novel had more than one or two

Black Coffee (anthology) edited by Andrew McRae

Okay, this isn’t fair. I have a story in this one. The stories are supposed to be noir, but not all of them are, in my opinion (mine definitely is, so you’re warned). But that’s okay. Lots of good ones, regardless of genre. At least take a peek at the description on-line and see if you’d think you’d like it.

The Children of Men by P. D. James

I was surprised to start reading this one because I didn’t read the description or any of the reviews. It was recommended by someone in the Short Mystery Fiction Society, so I grabbed it. And found out it was science fiction, not a mystery! It was good—had a mystery or two in it, of course, but I was kind of disappointed.

Miracle Cure by Harlan Cobern

I am a huge fan of Mr. Coben, and even saw a talk he gave at a conference and had him sign his break-out novel, Tell No One, for me there. The funny thing is that he himself recommends that you not read this book. It was an early book, written in his twenties and a bit heavy-handed about the AIDS epidemic going on then and how gays were treated. So, if you’re not already a fan, I’d take his recommendation and not read this although it kept me reading. Pick up Tell No One instead. It was great.

And that’s it for last month. See you next time. What’s the favorite book you read in September, 2016?

 

 

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SOME QUOTES

Helen Keller: So much has been given me that I have no time to ponder that which has been denied.

Unknown: Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery.

Unknown, and popular for a while, but I forgot it until now, and think you may enjoy it, too: Work as if you don’t need the money, love as if you’ve never been hurt, and dance as if nobody’s watching.

dance toon by aungkarns

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ARE THESE FIRST LINES GOOD STORY HOOKS?

Artie is either on a bus or robbing a business when each story begins. There are buses, limos, alleys, and always, beautiful women involved in the first paragraphs. I didn’t plan on the busses, limos, and alleys when I started writing the series. But I think they worked in each story and worked with a series. Here’s the first line from each story. Do they draw you in, or do I need to work on my first lines?

Artie and the Long-Legged Woman: Artie watched with horror as first one beautiful leg emerged from the white limousine and then an equally gorgeous leg followed.

Artie and the Brown-Eyed Woman: The scream brought Artie to the window.

Artie and the Red-Headed Woman: The bus bucked and came to a stop in the middle of the street.

Artie and the Green-Eyed Woman: Artie Applegate stepped into the dark alley and closed the jewelry store door behind him, his hands still gloved.

Artie and the Big-Footed Woman: Artie tightened the grip on his athletic bag as the bus jounced over another manhole cover.

The good news is that all stories now available in a “bundle.” It includes the first four previously published stoies and the bonus last one, “Artie and the Big-Footed Woman.” If you buy it through Untreed Reads, the publisher, you get a free bonus short story, “Going Where the Wind Blows.”

http://store.untreedreads.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=6_224&products_id=1932

or:

http://bit.ly/2cKl9i5

Also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble now, and other places soon, like Kobo.

artie-bundle

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GETTING CONTROL OF EMAIL AND USING IT TO STAY ORGANIZED

I’ve come up with a couple of tips I hope will help you get a handle on some time-management problems when dealing with email.

First I use folders to sort my mail into very small areas. I have a business one where I place sub-folders to throw in payments, orders, and so on for each business. I have folders for people I do a lot of correspondence with. I have them for family members. And so on.

But I had a brainstorm the other day, and started one for personal emails to answer, and one for marketing ideas. Now I see at a glance how many I need to answer that are personal, and how many I should go through for marketing. I even send myself marketing ideas (usually links) when I find them.

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The system has helped with my usual overwhelmed feeling when I look at my inbox. And the marketing idea is great because when I sit down and decide to work on marketing, I can go to that folder and find ideas to carry out. Examples include using Notes in Facebook to put up my most current blog post, update my bios at Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, etc. I try to work on one a day. (Think about it—that would be 365 marketing attempts a year!)

Let me know in the comments if you have any special email tricks

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BOOKS READ, AUGUST, 2016

I’ve decided to list the books I’ve read in the last month on the first Wednesday of every month with some thoughts about each one. My favorite of the month will be listed first in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing. The rest are in no particular order. I will only list those that I consider to be at least worth four stars on Amazon. The vast majority of books I read rate at least that many stars because I look for authors I like already, and/or for plot lines given in descriptions and reviews that interest me. I’ve noted when I’ve done full reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler

Okay, I’m prejudiced. Anne Tyler is one of my top five favorite authors. This is the first book she had published at the age of twenty-two! When I found this out, I was, of course, very jealous. It’s the story, told in the male viewpoint, of Ben Joe and his strange, dysfunctional but funny family. Mostly, it’s about love—all kinds of love. What’s not to love about that?

A Time of Torment, by John Connolly

Five star review up on Amazon and Goodreads. This is a Carlie Parker series thriller, the first in the series I’ve read. It involved a cult which I admit always fascinates me, and some very interesting characters. Very hard to put down.

So Many Steps to Death by Agatha Christi

I enjoyed this because it was an attempt by Ms. Christi to do a spy novel. Most reviews I’ve read put it down somewhat for that. I guess their expectations weren’t met. But if you like something different and love good plotting, good characters, and good writing, this is a very enjoyable book to read.

Dying in Style by Elaine Viets (a Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper #1)

This is the first in the Dead-End Jobs series by Elaine Viets. You can always count on some humor with stories by Ms. Viets. Josie Marcus is a mystery shopper. I knew this when I ordered the book, and I bought it because I wondered about how the whole mystery shopping thing worked. Although the plot is pretty improbable, this was a quick, fun read.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This is one of those books that I’ll never forget. It’s the story of two sisters during WWII in France. One cautious; one impetuous, filled with heartbreak and suspense. I love stories where I learn something new, especially when there is excellent writing, as is the case here. Highly recommended.

The Limping Dog by J.R. Lindermuth

Another five-star review up on Amazon and Goodreads for this one. See my review on my blog: http://www.janchristensen.com/review-the-limping-dog-by-john-lindermuth/

New England (good start!). A sailboat washes ashore. Gavin Cutter, a local artist, rushes aboard to help. But the only living thing he finds is a limping dog. Isn’t that a great opening? I thought so.

The Last Mile by David Baldacci (Amos Decker, #2)

Another suspense novel where I learned something new, this time about a condition of total recall called hyperthymesia. Amos Decker has it, and it can be both helpful and annoying. Melvin Mars, awaiting execution in Texas for killing his parents, is saved by a man confessing to the murders. But did the confessor really do it? Many twists and turns in typical Baldacci fashion and hard to put down.

My Sister, My Love, by Joyce Carol Oates

And here’s an author I sometimes like okay, sometimes don’t appreciate at all. But I am very glad I read My Sister, My Love. It was just fascinating in so many ways. Very long, detailed, but the story pulls you in. It’s based on the JonBennet Ramsey case, but the little girl is an ice skater, not a model. Another book told in the male point of view by a female author, it’s of course exceedingly well-done. Highly recommended for people who love long, intricate novels.

Broken Harbor by Tana French (Dublin Murder Squad #4)

Although I figured out what happened early on, this story pulled me in, and I had to finish it to see if I got it right. I did, but there was one more twist. You actually get two stories for one, and the writing is so good, nothing is confusing. Briefly, there’s a wonderful setting where a great detective is trying to figure out who killed two children, ages four and six, their father, and stabbed their mother who lived but remains unconscious for several days. I need to read the others in this series soon.

And that’s it for last month. See you next time. What’s the favorite book you read in August, 2016?

BALANCING WRITING ITSELF AND MARKETING THE WRITING

The other day I was reading about finding time to write and the reminder of Anne Lamont’s advice in Bird by Bird that you do as much as you can each day, and keep building on that, and you will finish, if you keep at it long enough.

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So, I have that down pretty well. I get stuff written—last couple of years two books a year plus articles, a short story or two, and email. Oh email doesn’t count?

Now I have nine (!) books published, and, I admit, they are languishing. This is probably because I’m not a good marketer. No, this is definitely because I’m not a good marketer.

So, my new plan is to set aside one hour a day for marketing. Yesterday, I was all set to do that when a big household project came up, and I ran out of time.

I guess today is another day.

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FIVE MAJOR INFLUENCERS OF MY NOVELS

Lewis Caroll

Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass

Entranced during childhood and beyond by the quests with very quirky characters and fun situations.

Influenced and still influences everything.

Mad Tea Party

Anne Tyler

Love her quirky characters, the humor, and the interesting plots. Locations are also often well-drawn.

Influenced almost everything, but especially my first published novel:

Sara’s Search

Nancy Drew

Influenced:

Tina Tales, especially Cluttered Attic Secrets where a group of friends—both female and male, but grown-up–attempt to solve a mystery. Sassy, pro-active protagonist.

Organized to Death

Buried Under Clutter

Cluttered Attic Secrets

Donald Westlake

Dortmunder Series, but all his books are great with engrossing situations and amazing characters.

Influenced: The Artie Crimes series:

Artie and the Long-Legged Woman

Artie and the Green-Eyed Woman

Artie and the Brown-Eyed Woman

Artie and the Red-Haired Woman

and upcomming, Artie and the Big-Footed Woman

Sue Grafton

Influenced, of course, my female PI series about Paula Mitchell:

Perfect Victim

A Broken Life

Secret Exposure

Front cover final I recommend composing your own blog post about the five major influencers of your writing.

(Sorry about the formatting. I don’t know why WordPress won’t let me do single spacing in this post, and I don’t want to take the time to figure it out when i could use the time better by writing my fiction!)

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A HUGE GOAL BROKEN DOWN TO DAILY GOALS = SUCCESS

If you only do these things, you will succeed:

  • Keep track—make your own scoreboard
  • Work to perfect your talent—study every day
  • Push through the bad days
  • Dig deeper by upping your daily goals, studying harder, and figuring out how to lessen your bad days
  • Never give up

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REVIEW: THE LIMPING DOG BY JOHN LINDERMUTH

Limping Dog LindermuthNew England. A sailboat washes ashore. Gavin Cutter, a local artiest, rushes aboard to help. But the only living thing he finds is a limping dog. There is no discernible damage, and no obvious reason for the boat being abandoned. A strange-appearing woman who was walking by with her dog when the ship ran aground disappears. Who was she? No one can find her.
Gavin recuses the limping dog, and the mystery of the ship’s missing passengers goes unanswered.
Then an insurance investigator shows up, asking questions, seemingly suspicious of Gavin Cutter. A woman insists Gavin take some money for rescuing the limping dog, but he refuses.
When even more questions are asked about the sailboat, Gavin becomes involved in getting some answers.
This story has great characters and a fascinating plot. The setting is picturesque and well-drawn, too. What more can you ask for? It definitely gets five stars from me.

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PRODUCTIVITY TIPS FOR CREATIVE PEOPLE

If you do creative work, you might consider how to get more done in less time. In the world of multitasking, creatives can become lost because they scatter their thoughts and feelings among too many things to do. I’ve read advice for creatives about making chores into activities. Run all your errands in one afternoon. Cook and freeze enough meals all day to feed everyone for a week or more. Answer routine emails once a week until your inbox is empty.

Of course, I’m going to talk specifically about writers here. You probably know that I’ve done a lot of research on time management and personal organization. And I’ve come up with a set of guidelines from all the research to use myself.

Over the last two or three years, though, I’ve become frustrated with my schedule, which in theory should work so well. I kept wondering why it didn’t. I’m going to show you what I used to do, and what I’m doing now. And why I think what I’m doing now is better.

My days had a set schedule/routine, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. I take Thursday and Sunday off—Thursday to shop instead of the weekend, and to do other errands, perhaps see a doctor, whatever comes up. Sunday is my unplug day—I check email morning and night, but the rest of the day I [try to] stay away from the computer.

This is what my schedule looks like:

  • Get up, get dressed, get coffee and orange juice, turn on computer, make bed while computer warms up.
  • Drink coffee and juice, read and respond to emails.
  • Write 1,000 words on work in progress—fiction
  • Exercise.
  • Eat lunch while reading newspaper (resting eyes from computer glare)
  • Housework, more email, odd jobs—not my best time of day to do creative work. I have one chore planned for each day—bathroom and kitchen day, dust and dry mop day, vacuum day, and so on—more about this later.
  • Four o’clock, put computer aside, no more housework, relax for an hour, reading a book.
  • Five o’clock, make dinner, eat dinner, clean up kitchen, read or do email until seven.
  • Seven o’clock, work for one hour on a writing project or marketing.
  • Eight o’clock, downtime or more email, Facebook.
  • Nine o’clock, more writing projects
  • Ten—finish up on computer, shut it down. Read until bedtime.

Okay, I left out personal grooming, talking to my husband, goofing off.

You’ll notice I don’t watch TV. Well, rarely, I watch football games once a week during the season, and the occasional show my husband is recommending, or a movie he’s watching. Not really my thing, though.

Looks really good on paper, doesn’t it? Not that many hours of work.

The trouble is that the marketing also gets interspersed in there—Twitter, Facebook, blog articles, a newsletter every so often, and lots of other stuff I can’t even remember now. If I don’t schedule those times to relax, I don’t relax.

And usually, by 7 o’clock, I don’t want to do anything more. There’s simply too much stuff! Scattered stuff.

So, I have a new plan using the project idea.

  • Mornings stay the same except the writing new stuff switches to marketing when I’ve finished a project until I can’t think of another way to promote that project, then I go back to new writing.
  • Afternoons stay the same except I do projects instead of small bits of housework—my plan is:
  • Monday, major project, will differ each week.
  • Tuesday groceries, some cooking in advance.
  • Wednesday, catch up on email/home office work.
  • Friday/clean house.
  • Saturday laundry..

But evenings become either more writing/editing or marketing—in other words, not doing both every night, again, until it’s done for the latest project.

I’m not saying this is going to help, but it might. I’m a bit excited about this experiment. But would it be better to continue in the afternoon working on writing and marketing, and doing the other chores after dinner? Like with a regular job? Or reverse it and do the housework/chores first thing, get them out of the way, then spend the rest of the day writing? I’m not sure yet. We’ll see.

So, I’ll report back in a month or so. Stay tuned!