Tag Archives: Reading

Excited to Share the Debut of Patrick O’Bryon’s Novel!

Follow the link below for more information:


I was lucky to be among the first readers and highly recommend it! Patrick offers a unique perspective on Nazi Germany through the eyes of a young American. The pages will turn quickly, a fantastic read.

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Launching your book: Could you benefit from a beta audience?

In the past I have talked about beta readers as a way to test my book. Today I came across an article about an author who is publishing his book to a beta audience of 1,000 people before he even makes his work available to the public. While this size sample audience is likely too large for most self-published authors, it does raise an interesting idea.

By releasing a book to a smaller audience, there is an opportunity to build a buzz and a collection of ready-reviews before your book is available for purchase. Admittedly, I am more likely to buy a book with at least some reviews (even mediocre) than one with none at all. Likewise, it provides more opportunity for refinement as readers provide input before the book hits Amazon.

Now, I know many authors question the validity of seeking so many different opinions, but perhaps this method of a larger beta audience (be it 1,000 or 100 or 10) provides the opportunity for a consensus to form. While the opinion of one may not be extremely useful, the overlapped opinions of many start to hold more value, particularly if the audience is picked intentionally. In the article, the author seeks readers in his academic community, not just any old volunteer.

I am curious of your thoughts– do you see advantages to a larger beta audience? Is there some secret to successful marketing in this approach?

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My grandmother and I are connected by books

I always wanted to be closer to my grandmother while I was growing up. She lived far away and we usually saw her on holidays, when the house was full of people competing for her attention. I was the youngest granddaughter. I know she loved me, but there was a lot going on, not to mention the fact that I was always chasing after my older cousins instead of hanging out in the kitchen, where you could find her.

I have this memory of sitting in the back seat of her car, my grandfather driving in LA traffic after we left Disneyland. It was hot and my little brother was in the seat next to me, probably making annoying noises. My grandparents bickered loudly in the front seat– the traffic, Disneyland, the heat, children, each undoubtedly testing their nerves. I think I learned a few new adult words that day. Still, I was somehow comforted by the predictability of their squabbles. Love was never missing. Even then I admired her fire.

As an adult, we finally spent time together, alone. We took a drive to Southern California to visit relatives and she told me all the secrets to our family tree– the Native American blood, the car accident that stopped their Western migration in Bakersfield of all places during the Dust Bowl, the hard work of all the women in our family on farms and in factories to keep the household afloat. She spoke openly about relationships and loss, her three big loves in this life each gone before her.

My mother bought her a book of questions to answer for her granddaughter, me. She filled them out lovingly and gave me the book of her words before I got married. I will always cherish the beautiful arches of her cursive, the unexpected memories from her childhood revealed in her shaky pen. The day of my wedding, she and my mother carefully hand-crafted a beautiful dragonfly out of beads to put on my bouquet. Even if sometimes there was not a sea of words between us, she has always shown her love through actions– cleaning, cooking, painting, sewing, creating. I get that now. As a child I thought closeness required more words.

Now there are more words. Today I returned my grandmother’s phone call, to see if she would ride up to my mom’s with me for Mother’s Day. I sent her Cheryl Strayed’s Wild as an early birthday gift. Just three days since it arrived, she is already halfway done. We spent most of the time on the phone chatting about Cheryl’s journey. We both call her that, Cheryl, as though we know her on a first-name basis. My grandmother cannot get over Cheryl’s courage. We both are haunted by her memories before the Pacific Crest Trail, especially the scene with her mother’s horse, Lady.

There is a part in the book where Cheryl reaches Kennedy Meadows, and that is the point where I knew I had to send my grandmother the book. It is a place she has told me about many times, but I could not place when or why. The first thing she told me on the phone, “You know, we used to go up to Kennedy Meadows all the time– your Grandpa Don and I lived near there, you know.” I did not even tell her that was why I sent the book.

My grandmother, 81 on Monday, and I are connected by books. Every time I finish one I especially love, I send it to her. She has read Middlesex and A Thousand Splendid Suns, never off-put by the complexities of life, but intrigued in very much the same way I am. I thought about this today, how much I love that we share our secret world of written words, how even fifty-one years apart, we both devour good books ravenously.

The first time I decided to send her a book, I hesitated, uncertain she would like the same things I do, worried I might somehow offend her with the brashness of my taste in literature. To my great relief, she loves my favorite stories too. I should have known. She still has a lot of fire.

Our grandmother on her 80th birthday last year in Bodega Bay. I'm proud to say I made the birthday crown!

My cousin and I with our grandmother, on her 80th birthday last year in Bodega Bay. I am proud to say I made her birthday crown in very much the same fashion she has made so many things for me over the years.

I look forward to our drive in May. She requested we talk more about Wild. I cannot wait. I am grateful we found a way to exchange more words than can ever be spoken aloud, that our shared love of books has helped us know one another more deeply than I ever expected.

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Spring Break Anticipation List

Last year, my spring break was magical. We went to Carmel, ran with the dog on the beach, dined in fancy restaurants, spied on fish at the aquarium, and ate German food with friends on a rainy evening in SF. Like I said, magical.

This year, no big trip planned. My husband has to work, and I’m left mostly to my own devices. One of the blessings of a teacher schedule is that some of my breaks are spent at home. Back when I only had three weeks off a year, every one of those vacation days was spent going somewhere. Now, I have the time to unwind.

There is, however, a catch. I have found that if I just wing it and don’t use my time wisely, I get anxious that I am squandering my valuable time off. My solution, a long to-do list, which I’ll spare you here, (because some of it is not so fun, like lesson planning and writing my last darn State of California teacher essay). Instead, I’ll just give you my favorite pieces:

  • Yoga. I know you’re shocked. I plan to use up those darn Groupons I keep buying and luxuriate in yoga all week. That in itself is a relaxing escape from normal life.
  • Read. I’m a funny reader. People give me books all the time, and instead of waiting to start a new book until I finish whatever I’m reading, I usually get impatient and add the new book to the mix, which leads to reading six books at once. I’m excited to go sit on a coffee shop patio, enjoy the week-long 70 degree forecast, and read, read, read.
  • Dogs. Yoga cat disappeared. She’s gone, our dog is lonely. My husband wants to get him a friend. I might give in… Or just take him to the dog park with my teacher friend.
  • Day-trip. If I can’t spend the week somewhere, I can at least get us out the door for the day. Thank goodness Northern California is filled with so many amazing spots. Look forward to a post about one of our favorite adventures– a Muir Beach hike and a lazy lunch on the lawn of the Pelican Inn.
  • Write. Oh yeah, and maybe I’ll write something. I have lost my momentum, but I hope to find it again over the next week.

I know I’m fortunate to have this time at home. I wish we lived in a society that created more time for people to stop and enjoy life. I know we create what we want for ourselves, but it is a nice thought. When I lived in Spain for the summer, I was taken aback by how everything shut down for summer festivals and holidays and siestas and quiet shop-free Sundays… I hope you get a little spring break in there somewhere too.

My sweet husband surprised me with some spring break tulips.

My sweet husband surprised me with some spring break tulips, a great start to my week off.

I am an ADHD reader. Here is the pile I have been reading simultaneously. My goal, finish them all so I can start a new batch!

I am an ADHD reader. Here is the pile of books I am reading simultaneously. My goal, finish them so I can start fresh.

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New Rule: Good Books Leave My House

Packages in the mail are magical.  I get just as much of a kick out of sending them as I do receiving.  Today I packaged up two books I recently finished, Sarah’s Key and the Snow Child, to mail to my aunt in Montana.  It only seemed fitting that Eowyn Ivey’s book set in the Alaskan wilderness reach her before her first winter surrounded in snow.

As I taped the box shut, I realized I usually do not keep books I like.  With the exception of a handful that I love, most of which are in Spanish because I have no one to pass them along to, my shelves are full of books that range from mediocre to downright lame.  All the good ones leave in the hands of guests.  Visit my house, you’re likely to leave with a book.

Now, I’m thinking that maybe I’ll start mailing more books after I finish them, assuming they’re any good.  I like the idea of a book being passed on and on in this fashion.  Read, then send to someone else you think might enjoy.  That way, the book lives on.  And, who knows, maybe good books will start arriving at my doorstep in return.

Life’s little pleasures unite: Passing on good books and mailing packages.


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Scenery Writing: More Help From the Internet

“Sometimes you may find it useful to let your characters huddle in the wings without you preparing for their roles, improvising dialogue, while you set the stage for their appearance.    Imagine yourself the set designer for a play or for the movie version of the story you are working on.”

-Anne Lamott, bird by bird

I was a strange child.  By fifth or sixth grade, I was attempting to read Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Dickens, in addition to more predictable childhood favorites like R.L. Stine and Madeleine L’Engle. What I remember most about those classic authors was the detail with which they described almost every scene.  Even my adult eyes now sometimes grow impatient when met with that much description.

One of my theories about why these authors included such long descriptions of space was because the world was a different place when they wrote.  Mass media did not exist.  People’s prior knowledge of places beyond the familiar was much more limited.  Today you mention practically any major city around the globe and mental images abound, helping to catch the reader up to speed without the necessity of a two-page Steinbeck description of Salinas.

However, I also recognize that good writing needs to put you in the setting, so that you can see, smell, feel the place where the characters exist.  Admittedly, I have a tendency to glance over this aspect of writing, more fixated on the inner workings of my characters and the actual action of the plot/dialogue than taking the time to carefully establish scenery.  I blame this on being part of an impatient generation that is bombarded by imagery in fast-paced entertainment.

So, of my own accord, I am going back into each chapter and making sure I created scenery that provides enough detail, inspired in part by those same great writers that sometimes make me impatient.  Today I took myself back to the Gare d’Austerlitz train station in Paris.  As I imagined all of the sights, sounds, smells, etc., I began googling for inspiration.  Funny how six seconds on YouTube can evoke such strong memories.  I am now aching to hear the anxious clicking of that departure board again in real life.

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My Love Affair with Powell’s Books

One hour to explore the world’s greatest bookstore.  The results:

  • Three books found me instead of me finding them.  Powell’s is an amazing labyrinth of stacks and stacks of books, (4,000,000+ to be precise).  I headed for Milan Kundera in literature and was sucked into countless book covers and displays along the way.
  • Finally reached my original destination– Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, had second thoughts because my arms were already full, opened to a random page, which turned out to be a passage about writing a novel for the first time.  Fitting, sold.
  • Tears.  Literally.  I wanted to stay all day.  I have never been in a bookstore that sucked me in to this degree.  All those words, all those authors.  So many worlds captured.  A live poetry reading by a published author.  I will be back for much more than an hour next time.  Maybe I will just move to Portland.
  • Last, but not least, new life goal– someday have my own book hidden somewhere in those glorious stacks.

So many choices, so little time.

The bounty of my 30-minute shopping spree, (including two t-shirts).

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