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Summer Sunshine Maya! I love updating her for the seasons❤

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels.”

On this site, you can find Book Reviews written by people who identify as women of books written by people who identify as women. You’ll also find interviews under Meet the Writer with people who identify as women who do any kind of writing: fiction, memoir, poetry, blogging, journalism, you name it! Not all of these authors are published, so you’ll get a variety of insight. My name is Melanie, and I’m happy you’re here! Please see the About GTL section to learn more about my reviewing process and FAQ for answers about review requests and why there are no people here who identify as men.

Meet the Writer: Liz Dexter #business #HowTo #SelfEmployed #WritersLife

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Meet the Writer: Liz Dexter #business #HowTo #SelfEmployed #WritersLife

I want to thank Liz Dexter for answering my questions about her experiences as a professional self-published writer and editor who created her own brand. She writes books that help other people understand self-employment, business, social media networking, and other topics.

Grab the Lapels: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Liz Dexter: I’ve always been something of a writer. In fact, I thought in my youth that I was going to be a fiction writer, and when I left school was probably “person most likely to” do so. However, I slowly discovered that I’m not creative in that way.

As I went through various jobs, I was involved in technical writing: manuals, training documents, marketing materials, articles, presentations, etc., and this was something I enjoyed doing. So, I developed an interest and specialism in non-fiction / informational / technical writing, as opposed to academic or creative writing.

I started writing books, specifically, because I wanted to share information and help people. My first book was on a health issue that I had that I’d been able to resolve without drugs. I was passionate about sharing how I’d done that with other people, and my confidence with my writing allowed me to do that quite fluently.

Once I’d experimented with How I Conquered High Cholesterol with Diet and Exercise, I was confident to write my first business book, again with the aim of helping people, but also knowing that I have the ability to write clearly and helpfully, in an accessible and friendly style that both supports people through the processes I was talking about and differentiates my writing from that of other business books.

GTL: What kind of writing do you do? What kinds of writing do you wish you did more of?

LD: I do non-fiction / informational / how-to writing that is low on jargon and accessible, aimed at helping people like me who are not traditional entrepreneurs to start and run their own businesses. I aim to be clear, thorough and transparent, and to be approachable and gently humorous. I put a lot of effort into making sure I share everything in detail as far as I can (leaving out identifying details of clients, of course), because I loathe with a passion those books that only take you so far and then expect you to buy an expensive course to finish learning!

I wish at the moment I could do more academic writing, but I am doing some independent study, too, along with a full-time job, training to run a marathon and working on my books. I long to set aside time for academic writing, but it necessarily comes at the bottom of the priority list!

I do also need to do some more of my standard book writing, as I have two new books forming at the moment (one specifically for editors and a longer-form book on transcription as a career, as The Quick Guide to Your Career in Transcription is my most popular).

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GTL: In what ways has academia shaped your writing?

LD: I would say that it hasn’t particularly, except that it did give me the confidence to know I write well and fairly fluently. Working with academic clients in my editing business helped a great deal with the structure of my own academic work, and working with non-native English speakers has helped me to refine my general writing style to be clear and simple.

Working on essays, etc., helped me to develop my method of writing, which is to let everything mull in my head, then write out a structure from beginning to end (I prefer this to mind-maps, which I can’t get my head around), type headings into a document and start writing under whichever heading feels appropriate at the time. I still use this method now.

I think my education in academia helped me to feel that I had a right to write books, that I could write and could take my place in helping to educate others (outside academia), if that makes sense?

GTL: It does make sense! In what ways has life outside of academia shaped your writing?

LD: All of the writing I’ve done in various jobs and then my blog writing has worked me towards being able to write my books. While writing very serious and standard prose and instructions helped me to be structured and organised in my presentation, I developed my voice in my blog: slightly self-deprecating, humorous, supportive, and light on the jargon. My reviewers have commented positively in the main on my voice and style; I’m glad of this.

Dealing with words and writing every day in my day job has allowed me to think about how to put things across and see good and bad examples of all kinds of writing. This has been extremely useful for me. It also helps me, hopefully, to write well.

One interesting turnaround is that my writing has also shaped my editing work — I have learned an awful lot, through being edited, about what it feels like to have an editor, and how I might refine my editing work in order to make the experience as easy and comfortable as possible for my own clients. That was an unexpected side effect!

GTL: What is your writing process like?

LD: I have to say that I don’t do a huge amount of revision. When I write new material, I tend to mull and mull over my work, letting it swirl around in my head, then put it down pretty well complete. Having said that, a lot of the content in my books is based, however loosely, on my blog posts, so that gives me a writing process which is like a revision — or adaptation — process. I learned early on that you can’t just stick a load of blog posts in one big document and think of that as an actual book; there’s lots of fiddling around and adjusting to do.

For my next two books, I’ll be adapting a general book I wrote on starting and running a business for editors, as I have had so many people approach me asking me to mentor them, and that’s something I just don’t have the time or energy for. So I’m adapting the book and pulling it back to the editing career in particular (which is quite ironic, since originally I worked really hard to make sure it was relevant to all freelance careers!). When I put together my larger guide to transcription as a career, I’ll be basing it on that book and my transcription book, plus blog posts I’ve written on the topic since I published the book. It will be a work of synthesis and editing almost more than writing, although new bits will come in for the introductions, etc.

I want to say here that I’m extremely clear in my book descriptions, high up in the text, when a book is similar to a previous or other one I’ve put out, so people don’t feel ripped off by buying similar content twice!

As for the actual process, it’s processed in Word, using blocks of time I set aside for it when I can!

GTL: How has your writing process evolved?

LD: I have always had to fit writing into the time I have, since writing manuals, training materials, etc. so that’s not a problem, and early on in my freelance career, I offered website content writing and other such services, so I’m pretty good at just sitting down and writing: I don’t have the luxury of being able to wait for inspiration to strike!

I added an editor into the process when I started writing my books, so that’s a new stage and a new round of revisions to take into account in the process itself. It makes for a better book, but I do find I pause before I go through the editor’s revisions!


Liz 2015Liz Dexter (who publishes her books under her maiden name, Liz Broomfield) is an editor, proofreader, localiser and transcriber who has been working in the field since 2009. When she went full-time self-employed in 2012 at the age of 40, she found there were no books addressing the subject, so she wrote her own and carried on writing accessible, approachable how-to business books from there, which she has published herself, using a professional editor and cover designer. Outside work and writing, Liz reads obsessively and is a keen runner and volunteer in athletics. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook!

 

Rainbow Valley #20BooksofSummer #YAlit #AnneofGreenGables

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Rainbow Valley #20BooksofSummer #YAlit #AnneofGreenGables

Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery

(Book #7) of the Anne of Green Gables Series

Be sure to read my reviews for the previous six books. Links to reviews are all at the bottom of this page in my #20BooksofSummer challenge list!


It’s gotta be a conspiracy, ya’ll! The odd number Anne books are delightful, plot-driven, and full of memorable characters. All the even numbers (ew) are a let down and read more like short stories set in the same place with the same people that…well, don’t really go together. Hooray for Rainbow Valley being on an odd number!

Rainbow Valley isn’t about Anne at all. In fact, it’s barely about her family. While that may sound disappointing to Real Anne Fans, I was happy to get a bit of space from the Judgey McJudger that has become Anne (she rates her children on beauty).

There is a place in the woods near Ingleside (the Blythe family home) that has a little brook and is covered is moss. Two trees’ branches intertwine, like lovers. The children hang bells in those trees and play all sorts of games. Though it was once called the Hollow, little Rilla saw a rainbow shoot across the sky that landed in the Hollow and exclaimed it beautiful. Thus, the Hollow is re-dubbed Rainbow Valley.

Rainbow Valley

That’s our setting; who are the characters? Mainly, they are the Meredith children. Mr. Meredith is the new preacher for the Presbyterian church in Glen St. Mary. He’s a widower with four children. Being a bigger space-head dreamer than any character before, Mr. Meredith unintentionally neglects his children. The only one who “cares” for them is Aunt Martha, who is old, deaf, a terrible cook, and sickly. Mr. Meredith saved her from the poor house, so he fears that getting an actual live-in maid would hurt his old aunt’s feelings. Who cares if the kids starve and look ragged, right?

Everyone cares. Not only do the church members think the children are hooligans, they judge the cat:

“A manse cat should at least look respectable, in my opinion, whatever he really is. But I never saw such a rakish-looking beast. And he walks along the ridgepole of the manse almost every evening at sunset, Mrs. Dr. dear, and waves his tail, and that is not becoming.”

If a cat swishing its tail is going to lead to criticism, the minister’s children have no hope. They have few clothes, sometimes no shoes, are apt to laugh when they shouldn’t, and really have no one raising them.

There are two things that really make this book a pleasure to read: the characters and the sustained plot. The main characters are the Meredith children. Jerry, 12, is the oldest. He’s not so much a guide to his younger siblings as we typically see. They simply like having him around. Faith is 11. She takes up the spotlight because she is so unlike any other LMM character in the Green Gables series. Faith is a tomboy, has a pet rooster, and comes up with plans to fix things and take responsibility for her actions. Some might say Faith has balls. Una is 10 and she’s “not pretty, but sweet.” Yes, there is a lot of that in Rainbow Valley, though not as much as Book #6. Una is a thinker, and she constantly considers the feelings of others. Carl is 9, and he’s also unlike any other. He loves bugs and creatures, so he always has something crawling on him or digging around in his pocket, even in church, which is a hoot. He doesn’t say much, but he adds to each scene with his presence.

While these are good Christian children, they are scrutinized fiercely. The manse is attached to a Methodist graveyard, so the children play there frequently, which the Presbyterians feel makes them look sinful to the Methodists. While gossip drives me nuts, the things people catch the Meredith children doing is often funny or sad, so either way I felt for them and wanted to help them.

The story then introduces Mary Vance. She was taken in by a woman who nearly worked her to death and beat her constantly. The Meredith children find Mary sleeping in a barn and take her in. Their father is so oblivious that Mary Vance lives with the Merediths for two weeks, but he doesn’t notice. Mary’s both annoying and wonderful. She’s such a heathen that she sticks out as a blemish in LMM’s perfect world. The Meredith children try to school Mary on hell, but she doesn’t know what it is. She explains:

“Mr. Wiley used to mention hell when he was alive. He was always telling folks to go there. I thought it was some place over in New Brunswick where he come from.”

I hate to laugh because Mary knows almost nothing, but she does insert humor into the story. She almost died of “pewmonia,” for instance. After she’s permanently homed and dolled up with nice things, she has access to gossip from grown women. Mary runs to tell the Meredith children what she’s heard. While eyeing Mary’s nice new clothes, the Merediths eye their holey socks and old, thin outfits and feel regret for helping her. And Mary’s news always upsets their world; she may tell her friends that their father is going to be let go because they’ve behaved badly and caused a member of the church who donates a hefty sum to his salary to quit attending.

Mary certainly helps the plot move along. The children respond to her news by taking action. Notably, Faith speaks to members of the church whom the Meredith children have rubbed the wrong way. Hilarity ensues, but you also admire her bravery when handling grown-up situations. There’s also a sense of sadness; it’s heartbreaking to watch her take responsibility for the children to make sure everyone knows their father had nothing to do with their behavior. She’s a tween and has no rightful business fixing adult lives, but she has to.

The plot of Rainbow Valley moves forward (THANK YOU, LMM) instead of skipping from one unrelated scene to the next. It starts with meeting the Merediths and Mary Vance. The Meredith children play with the Blythe children in Rainbow Valley. We don’t learn much about the Blythes. (Where is Shirley??? Did he die? Did Anne hallucinate him? He is in zero scenes in Books #6 and #7!). Let’s face it: the Meredith children are 100% more interesting that the Blythe youth. Then, the plot moves to the Presbyterian women of Glen St. Mary trying to hook Mr. Meredith up with someone to take care of his kids and stop embarrassing the Presbyterians, who fear the Methodists are laughing at them. A romance ensues, and there is a sort of Taming of the Shrew plot that added pathos to a few story threads. Though the romance is predictable, it’s nice to have a story work out the way you want it to.


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#20BooksofSummer

This book was read as part of Cathy 746’s challenge to read 20 books between June 1st and September 5th. Here’s the roster:

  1. Harley and Me by Bernadette Murphy
  2. On Air by Robin Stratton
  3. Single Stroke Seven by Lavinia Ludlow
  4. Girls of Usually by Lori Horvitz
  5. Retelling by Tsipi Keller
  6. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  7. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  8. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
  9. Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America by Jonathan Kozol
  10. Terror in Taffeta by Marla Cooper
  11. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  12. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  13. Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  14. Anne of Windy Poplars by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  15. Anne’s House of Dreams by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  16. Anne of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  17. Rainbow Valley by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  18. Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  19. Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher by Monica Nolan
  20. Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore

Anne of Ingleside #20BooksofSummer #AnneofGreenGables #YAlit

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Anne of Ingleside #20BooksofSummer #AnneofGreenGables #YAlit

Anne of Ingleside, by L.M. Montgomery

Book #6 of the Anne of Green Gables series

Be sure to read my reviews of the previous books in this series! The links are at the bottom of the page in my #20BooksofSummer reading list.

After the birth of Jem in Book #5, Anne and Gilbert buy a larger home: Ingleside. The last of the story describes Anne’s deep sorrow over leaving her beloved House of Dreams. Anne of Ingleside picks up with a full house: Anne and Gilbert Blythe; their live-in maid from Book #5, Susan; and their children, Jem, Walter, Nan, Di, Shirley, and one on the way. The children’s names get confusing because they’re almost all given nicknames and are named after other characters:

  • James Matthew Blythe is “Jem” (he’s named after Captain Jim and Matthew Cuthbert)
  • Walter Cuthbert Blythe (no nickname; he’s named for Anne’s father and the Cuthbert family)
  • Diana Blythe is “Di” (named for Diana Barry) and Nan’s twin
  • Anne Blythe is “Nan” (named for her mother) and Di’s twin
  • Shirley Blythe (named for the Shirley family)
  • Bertha Marilla Blythe is “Rilla” (named for Anne’s mother and Marilla Cuthbert)

Anne of ingleside

The synopsis on the back of the book makes the novel sound like an exciting story: Anne’s going to have a baby, Gilbert’s annoying aunt won’t leave after her two-week visit expires, and Anne thinks Gilbert doesn’t love her anymore. I thought this would all tie together. What I get is the LMM curse: all the even numbered books are disappointing. The new baby isn’t much of a story; Rilla is born early in the novel. Gilbert’s aunt hangs around for a few chapters and leaves for an unusual reason. And Anne’s concern that Gilbert doesn’t love her? Not even mentioned until page 255 (the book is 274 pages long).

Instead, I was given another Windy Poplars — a book basically full of stories. In fact, LMM gets so lazy as to write declarations of how it’s another characters turn to be in the spotlight. Each Blythe child is featured in a small story arc that doesn’t tie in with the rest of the story arcs. Except Shirley. What is Shirley doing the entire book?? I forgot he existed at times. Mostly, I was bored because I couldn’t see where the book was going, even though it covered years.

The individual spotlights on a child were predictable because they were all the same: a child felt bad about something (perhaps defying a parent), live-in maid Susan threatens them with castor oil (a medicine prescribed for everything, it seems), the child solves the situation on his/her own, and then bawls to Anne about what happened anyway. Finally, the child decides Anne is the best mother ever (Jem calls her “mother dearwums,” which made me want to throw up a bit).

The adults, including Anne, tend to say stupid, hurtful things in Book #6. Walter is afraid for his mother; he’s heard she’s sick (readers know she’s in labor) and asks Susan if his mother is alright. Susan replies, “…she was never in any danger of dying this time.” Why would you tell a boy, who doesn’t know the difference between “sick” and “labor,” that his mom’s almost died, and Whew! she didn’t this time? After the birth of Rilla, Anne says, “All our babies were sweet, Gilbert, but she is the sweetest of them all.” How does one determine the “sweetness” of a baby, and why would one rank her children?

Beautiful people rule in the land of LMM, and she makes it known more than ever in Book #6. Nan and Di are twins, but they aren’t identical. Nan is declared the “much prettier” twin. In another instance, we learn Rilla loves her teacher and is so glad she got her teacher and not the other teacher, because the other teacher is ugly, and “Rilla couldn’t bear an ugly teacher.” Nan goes to meet a new neighbor and is sad to learn that she’s old . . . “and fat!” At school, Di decides to choose a best friend. Perhaps forgetting she is the not-pretty twin, she considers her two options based on looks. Di realy likes Laura. “But Laura was rather plain, with freckles and unmanageable sandy hair. She had none of Delilah Green’s beauty and not a spark of her allure.” The adults are just as bad; Anne and Gilbert visit an old college friend. Gilbert says, “she’s got fat. Thank goodness, you haven’t got fat, Anne-girl.” As if the worst thing a woman who gave birth to seven children could do is get fat. I’ve been paying attention, too, to see what fat means. Diana Barry is described as “fat” at 155 lbs. The average American woman weighs 164.3 lbs. The attention to looks gets exhausting, and you start feeling bad about yourself.

One positive was the change in the author’s descriptions. Although in past books everything was described as misty or fairy or elfin-like, LMM’s descriptions are stronger in Book #6. The author uses simile effectively:

“Snow in April is abominable,” said Anne. “Like a slap in the face when you expected a kiss.” Ingleside was fringed with icicles and for two long weeks the days were raw and the nights were hardbitten. Then the snow grudgingly disappeared and when the news went round that the first robin had been seen in the Hollow Ingleside plucked up heart and ventured to believe that the miracle of spring was really going to happen again. . . . Spring was trying out her paces that day . . . like an adorable baby just learning to walk.

Throughout, the descriptions are less abstract, so I got a better picture of the setting, which I enjoyed! Distracting though, are the missing coordinating and subordinating commas. LMM’s punctuation had been a thing of beauty in her previous books. What happened?

Overall, I didn’t enjoy Anne of Ingleside. The children were boring, the adults rude, and the plot…what plot? I typically highlight a lot in the Green Gables books, as the tend to be very funny (even the books I don’t like). In Book #6, almost nowhere. The only times I enjoyed myself was when Miss Cornelia (that’s Mrs. Marshall Elliot, now) popped in for a visit. Here’s one of her gems to end on a positive note:

“What I had against Mr. Dawson,” said Miss Cornelia, “was the unmerciful length of his prayers at a funeral. It actually came to such a pass that people said they envied the corpse. He surpassed himself at Letty Grant’s funeral. I saw her mother was on the point of fainting so I gave him a good poke in the back with my umbrella and told him he’d prayed long enough.”


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#20BooksofSummer

This book was read as part of Cathy 746’s challenge to read 20 books between June 1st and September 5th. Here’s the roster:

  1. Harley and Me by Bernadette Murphy
  2. On Air by Robin Stratton
  3. Single Stroke Seven by Lavinia Ludlow
  4. Girls of Usually by Lori Horvitz
  5. Retelling by Tsipi Keller
  6. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  7. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  8. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
  9. Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America by Jonathan Kozol
  10. Terror in Taffeta by Marla Cooper
  11. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  12. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  13. Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  14. Anne of Windy Poplars by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  15. Anne’s House of Dreams by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  16. Anne of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  17. Rainbow Valley by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  18. Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  19. Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher by Monica Nolan
  20. Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore

Meet the Writer: Rosalie Morales Kearns #AuthorInterview @RMoralesKearns #WritersLife

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Meet the Writer: Rosalie Morales Kearns #AuthorInterview @RMoralesKearns #WritersLife

I want to thank Rosalie Morales Kearns for answering my questions. Kearns is the started a small feminist press called Shade Mountain Press. Recently, I’ve been featuring a few of her writers, but I wanted to see what Kearns had to say as a writer herself, rather than publisher! You can follow Kearns on Twitter. Shade Mountain Press can be found on Facebook and Twitter.


GRAB THE LAPELS: What would you like readers to know about your collection, Virgins and Tricksters?

ROSALIE MORALES KEARNS: I would say that a lot of the stories are very joyful, though not, I hope, in a naïve or simplistic way. There’s an underlying theme of human connection, bonds that form between people who may seem to have little in common.

Using the magic realist mode in some of the stories allowed me to play around with techniques I might not otherwise have tried. In “Devil Take the Hindmost” I tried to capture a character’s sensation that time is fluid, that different moments are occurring at the same time. Another story, “Taínos at Large,” is narrated by a chorus, the ancestral spirits of the main character, and of course those spirits are outside time also, though they’re observing their descendant who exists in ordinary time. I’m interested in conveying altered states and ecstatic experiences — which are nonlinear — in a narrative form, which has to be linear in the sense that it consists of one sentence after another.

I had fun with the settings of the stories, also. One takes place on a fictional Caribbean island. In another story there’s a conference room where all the gods and goddesses are having a meeting to complain about Yahweh.

There’s also a story cycle called “The Wives,” consisting of “The Pirate’s Wife,” “The Revolutionary’s Wife,” “The Priest’s Wife,” and finally “God’s Wife.” The main characters, the wives, are seekers; in the stories I’ve tried to capture them in the midst of their seeking.

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GTL: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

RMK: For me, writing and reading were connected. Love and stories were intertwined. When I was little, my dad would read to us kids every evening. There’s a photo of me at age three or so, sitting on the sofa with my teddy bear on my lap, reading to him from a book of fairy tales (in the photo, you can clearly see that the book is upside-down). The message I’d internalized was that a loved one told you stories, and then you told stories to another loved one.

The first short story I can recall writing was at age seven. All I remember is that it was funny, and involved talking pigs. I stood in front of my second-grade class and read it out loud, and basked in my classmates’ applause. We writers hardly ever get that kind of instant gratification.

GTL: How have you developed creatively since then?

RMK: I wrote a lot during grade school. In fifth grade I wrote a radio play, which the principal allowed us to perform on the public address system. It was a mystery story, in which a student is found dead and the prime suspects are our teachers. In eighth grade in our U.S. history class, my friends and I were upset about the fate of the abolitionist John Brown, so we wrote a play in which he’s rescued from the gallows. My friend Toni, playing Catwoman (a superhero in our eyes), crouched on the top of a wardrobe and then leapt down onto a desk where Brown was about to be hanged. Luckily she was agile enough to pull it off, otherwise she, John Brown, and I (the executioner) would have crashed to the floor. Our teacher kept grumbling, “That’s NOT how it happened.”

I didn’t write much during high school, and not at all in college. It wasn’t till my mid-twenties that I started writing again, though I had very little time and energy for it. Plus I was sapped by self-doubt. I kept telling myself I didn’t know what I was doing: Who are you to write a novel? What do you know about it?

Even now, every so often, I have to remind myself that I know how to tell a story. We humans have a storytelling instinct. We need to learn how to stop second-guessing ourselves.

I’ve also learned to appreciate the pre-writing phase, when I’m just getting inklings of the story, when I dream characters, dream scenes, while washing dishes or listening to music or staring into space. That’s how I get to know the characters, discover new things about them. I can’t just consciously decide on a character’s traits; I have to intuit them gradually over time.

Kearns photo for Grab the Lapels

GTL: Does your writing include any research? If so, why/why not, and can you talk about why you made that choice.

RMK: In a way, the research comes first. The more I read about a topic for my own personal interest, the more it finds its way into my fiction. Then, as I’m sketching out notes or delving into the first draft, I do more targeted research to find specific facts that I realize the story needs.

I have a novel I’m seeking a publisher for right now, whose main character is a female Roman Catholic priest. I don’t know that I would have even thought of the subject if I hadn’t already done a lot of reading about feminist history, feminist spirituality, theology, Christian mysticism, the history of Christianity, etc. I’ve always been fascinated by religion, and I attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. But I still did a lot more research, especially for details: the daily missal, the catechism, the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours.

The novel I’m drafting now takes place against the backdrop of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. I would never have started the novel if I didn’t already have some familiarity with Russian culture, language, and history, but I’ve needed to do a whole lot more reading. What’s fun is that I would think up situations or scenes and then wonder, But did this really happen? And then I would read a memoir or a history and find out, yes, the cavalry was still relevant during the civil war; yes, the secret police were infiltrating the Russian Orthodox Church, etc.

GTL:  What is your writing process like? Which do you favor, starting or revising?

RMK: I like both. Doing the first draft, when I’m dreaming the scenes for the first time, emotions are really raw, and if bad things are happening to the characters, I’m right there with them. An example is the Russia novel I mentioned above. The basic plot is: good people suffer a lot, then die young in horrible circumstances. A couple of years ago I used the NaNoWriMo as a motivation to make some progress on a VERY rough first draft. Each evening I would work on more scenes, with my cat Puff curled up next to me, and every so often I would reach out and bury my hand in her long, silky fur, to remind myself that there’s still goodness in this world.

The revision process creates a different sort of urgency. You have some distance from that first draft, so it’s a chance to pay more attention to craft in a calmer state of mind. But at the same time I worry that I won’t do justice to what I’m imagining, that I might not be able to make the words do what I want them to.

GTL: Are you reading anything right now?

RMK: I’ve just finished Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Mr. Fox and now want to read everything she’s ever written. And I’ve spent the past year or so reading all kinds of books about Russian history and culture. One of my favorites is a gorgeously illustrated book titled Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales, by Sibelan Forrester, including fairy tales and very interesting essays.

I’m also doing a lot of reading in my capacity as founder of a small feminist publishing house, Shade Mountain Press. We’re in the midst of a submissions call, for novel manuscripts by African-American women (deadline is September 1; details are here).

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Deja Vu: #TechTip Rehash of Featured Images

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Deja Vu: #TechTip Rehash of Featured Images

I wanted to pull out some information from one of my previous #TechTip posts and share it all by itself so that it stands out. I keep seeing blog posts in my feed that either have no image (which doesn’t stand out) or has some random image, like a picture of a share button, as the advertised image (which means no feature image was chosen).


Why Is This A Problem? If you shared an advertisement for a product on all of your social media, wouldn’t you want a picture of the product prominently displayed? You’re missing an opportunity!


How To Choose a Featured Image:

  1. Start a blog post. Title it. Write it.
  2. Before you click publish or schedule the post, look to the left side at your options.
  3. Click “Feature Image.”
  4. Click “Set Feature Image.”
  5. You can either use a picture you’ve already saved to your WordPress media, or you can find something new and upload it.

For my #TechTip posts, I always use the meme my lovely husband made. That is the image that shows up in any previews — on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, in the WordPress reader, etc.

The featured image will also appear at the top of your post when readers access your blog on a computer, so make sure you don’t put the same image first thing in your post as you’re writing it — readers will see the same image twice. Here’s what I mean:

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Here’s what my post looks like when it’s shared on social media (by me or anyone else!):

screen shot vanessa

My featured image — the one I chose — is prominently displayed and looks appealing!


tech tips from gtl

When a Book Hits Close to Home: My Own Miss Stacy #AnneofGreenGables

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When a Book Hits Close to Home: My Own Miss Stacy #AnneofGreenGables

Why did I choose the Anne of Green Gables series as part of my #20BooksofSummer challenge? It was to satisfy a guilt I’ve felt since the mid-90s. My great-grandma Mabel bought me the entire Anne set when I was a girl, but I truly struggled to read the books. Honestly, the vocabulary and grammar can be difficult, but I’d always felt awful, as if I’d let Grandma down. Thus, after starting Anne of Green Gables about a dozen times, I gave up and stuck the box set away. In college, I sold those books for $40 because I was broke. But this past winter, I brought up Anne many times for some reason. It was as if she, and great-grandma Mabel, had resurfaced for some reason. My husband got online and bought the box set (though not the same one).

I am now on Book #6 of the Anne of Green Gables series; however, my mind had been going crazy with curiosity long before I got here. Miss Stacy in Book #1 has stuck with me. You see, my great-grandma Mabel was a teacher, too, and loved to write. She taught in one-room school houses in small farming communities around central Michigan. Though she passed away when I was 13, I still remember her. I recently asked her daughter (my grandma) more about great-grandma’s experiences in the one-room school houses, but she wasn’t sure there were any diaries from that time period.

This past weekend my husband and I traveled to central Michigan for a family reunion. We stayed at my parents. Just as I was about to get in bed in my old room, I saw a binder on the bookshelf that looked odd. You see, inside was a diary my great-grandma had written, and I am surprised at how Anne-like it sounds! I wanted to share a bit with you.

Firstly, my great-grandma was born in 1910 in Ohio. She was Mabel Winters. However, her father suddenly passed away, and her mother could not care for 5 children. Mabel was a new baby, so she was given up for adoption (babies are always more desired than older children, as we learn with how little folks trust Anne Shirley). She became Mabel Dlamater (a misspelling of De’Lamater; her new father had a 2nd grade education and wouldn’t admit he’d spelled his own name wrong). They moved to Michigan.

When she was a girl, she would recite poems publicly (like Anne Shirley), calling herself an “egoist” because she loved the attention. Mabel got engaged as a junior in high school, but unlike Anne, she didn’t stay home to have babies. She wanted to teach. First, she spent $300 to go to school for one year and a summer, which earned her a State Certificate to teach for three years. Here’s the part I wanted to share; it’s about the first few years of my great-grandma teaching in a one-room school house in 1938:

I proceeded to involve the parents in everything. I gave afternoon tea to the mothers. We put on a play with the parents as actors and actresses, and established a hot lunch program with parents taking turns acting as cooks.

Some children had never been out of the community, so we went on field trips. We rode a train and went up and down an elevator; plus, we roamed the countryside on nature walks, collected weeds for winter bouquets, and learned firsthand about our surroundings. As a special treat one winter, we had an afternoon sledding party, complete with wieners and buns, and were accompanied by several parents. . . . [I cut out a long passage about Mabel writing to welfare offices to get her students and their families food and winter clothes. It is The Depression at this time].

I was invited to dinner at children’s homes, and I always accepted. I had never seen or imagined such poverty, but I also felt like a queen. At one home I was given the only solid chair; the rest of the family stood or sat on blocks of wood. I was fed chicken, fried to perfection, and served a beautiful cake that so impressed the children they could hardly wait for me to taste it. It was delicious. There was a hole in the floor, and I remember the mother laughing and saying her children learned to walk late because she was afraid to put the babies on the floor, because they might fall through. . . .[I cut out a long passage in which Mabel describes things people did to survive during The Depression. Also, the welfare office is giving her a hard time when she tries to help her students’ families, as they believe those families are just “lazy” …during The Depression].

The wind of change came into my teaching. Gone was the rigid program. I grouped and combined classes. Gone was dead silence; a busy, happy hum was heard most of the time as the children worked and helped one another. We painted fairy tale characters on the walls, and the children created wonderful stories and poems of their own. We still said “the Lord’s Prayer” every morning, saluted the Flag, and sang “America.” Then, I usually read aloud for 15 minutes. Always there was a poem or story written on the board to copy and memorize if it appealed to them. I remember I read aloud Laddie by Jean Stratton Porter and Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, along with several others that I have long forgotten.

Great-grandma Mabel is so involved in the children’s lives. She teaches them about nature by being outside, fosters creativity, and still has a sense of adventure when she conducts field trips. People thought she was memorable but strange, then, just as parents felt Miss Stacy, who also visited students homes where children wanted to impress her with their desserts, was something unusual. Anne Shirley learned her love learning and teaching from Miss Stacy, on whom she modeled her own teaching career.

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One-room school in Michigan. Photo taken from the Central Michigan University website. The Clarke Historical Library at CMU works to preserve the memory of one-room schools because generations of Michigan children were taught in them.

Anne’s House of Dreams #20BooksofSummer #YAlit #Canada #AnneofGreenGables

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Anne’s House of Dreams #20BooksofSummer #YAlit #Canada #AnneofGreenGables

Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery, published in 1922

Book #5 in the Anne of Green Gables series

Please be sure to first read my reviews of Anne of Green Gables (Book #1), Anne of Avonlea (Book #2), Anne of the Island (Book #3), and Anne of Windy Poplars (Book #4).


Things are finally going in the direction readers have wanted since Gilbert Blythe called Anne Shirley “carrots” and then slid her a candy heart as an apology: they got married. Some things are left static: Marilla and Mrs. Lynde remain unchanged. Apparently, there’s not enough room for the plot to express how they’ve aged, especially Marilla’s worrisome headaches. Diana’s family is practically forgotten, though Diana always comments on how fat she’s getting. Yet, some things are different: there are finally phones in Avonlea homes, which Mr. Harrison calls “modern inconveniences.” The twins are in their middle teens. The biggest change is Anne no longer teaches — women at the time worked until they were married and then stopped, even after having put years into their schooling. Instead, she and Gilbert move to a harbor, “half way between Glen St. Mary and Four Winds Point,” where Gilbert will establish himself as a doctor and Anne will be wife and, we hope, mother. Of course, a new setting provides the opportunity to meet new characters!

House of Dreams

I appreciated that LMM didn’t mess around. Within 20 pages, Anne and Gilbert are married. However, the author has a tendency to describe nature and beautiful women/girls, but not so much emotions. I wasn’t sure how anyone felt during the wedding; LMM tells us, briefly, that there was a wedding. Immediately, the newlyweds head to their new home — Anne’s House of Dreams — to honeymoon there. No sojourn in Europe or the States (again, I appreciate not dragging it out). Because we’re now set at a harbor, LMM has no shortage of descriptions: the mist is emerald, the mist is purple, the mist is moonlit like curls of ribbons, there’s a misty rain. What’s with all the mist?! I may not have lived on a harbor, but I do know that mist is mist, no matter how you spin it. Other descriptions are so flowery that I had trouble focusing. At one point, the sky is described as a jeweled cup that fell over to spill ink on the sky. I kept thinking, The ink spill is gorgeous, but what makes the cup jeweled? I felt like Miss Stacey, who, back when Anne was in the one-room school house, tightened Anne’s language to make her a stronger writer.

To make up for the descriptions that caused my eyes to glaze over, LMM provides new characters who are more complex than previous Anne books. Instead of overwhelming us with mini stories, like she did in Anne of Windy Poplars, LMM creates a few new people with whom Anne engages. Her house of dreams is located far enough from everyone else that she only has a select number of neighbors to befriend.

There’s Miss Cornelia, whose main trait is that she hates men. She even claims that she doesn’t want to have the right to vote because women would get it, vote, and then men would blame all the problems in the country on women! (“That’s their scheme,” she says). Miss Cornelia rags on men on both sides of the harbor. For instance, she tells Anne:

“Mrs. Roderick was a Milgrave, and the Milgraves never had much sense. Her nephew, Ebenezer Milgrave, used to be insane for years. He believed he was dead and used to rage at his wife because she wouldn’t bury him. I‘d a-done it.”

Miss Cornelia looked so grimly determined that Anne could almost see a spade in her hand.

But what I remember most is that Miss Cornelia isn’t all thorns, evidenced by the fact that she is constantly sewing for unwanted babies born around the harbor, babies whose parents already have too many children:

“I s’pose I’m a fool, to be putting hand embroidery on this dress for an eighth baby. But, Lord, Mrs. Blythe, dearie, it isn’t to blame for being the eighth, and I kind of wished it to have one real pretty dress, just as if it was wanted. Nobody’s wanting the poor mite — so I put some extra fuss on its little things just on that account.”

For all of Miss Cornelia’s grumpiness about men, this moment stuck with me through the whole book. I kept thinking about families I know that have more babies than that can afford, and instead of wondering what their parents are thinking, I started thinking good thoughts for the poor babies.

Then there’s Captain Jim, a man in his 70s who used to sail the seas, but now is the lighthouse keeper. When he and Miss Cornelia get in the same room, the conversations are more akin to watching fencing! Captain Jim has countless yarns, but he’s also a reader. Again, we have a character that doesn’t quite match expectations. He shares with Anne and Gilbert his latest read:

“It’s called A Mad Love. ‘Tisn’t my favorite brand of fiction, but I’m reading it jest to see how long she can spin it out. It’s at the sixty-second chapter now, and the wedding ain’t any nearer than when it begun, far’s I can see.”

Is it possible that LMM is making fun of herself just a bit? She did prolong the Blythe wedding for 5 books!

you got me

The most complex new character is Leslie, Anne and Gilbert’s closest neighbor. Extremely beautiful and about the Blythe’s age, Anne is thrilled. But Leslie vacillates from cold to warm, and Anne is frustrated because she’s never failed to win someone as a friend. But Leslie has problems at home, including a marriage at 16 that she was practically forced into, and a husband who causes a range of problems over 12 years. Leslie’s story creates mystery, ethical questions, and challenges for Anne. It’s not often Anne has sorrow, but in Book #5, she does throughout. It makes Book #5 more real and gripping than in the previous books. I guessed what would happen to Leslie, and was wrong.

LMM brings back some traits of Anne and Gilbert that made me love them. Gilbert still studies; he’s never stopped, which causes other doctors to become complacent. Anne’s temper flares up, too. After the Blythes get a second opinion from Captain Jim about an important decision, Anne is mad that the captain sided with Gilbert: “At least, Captain Jim’s tea and conversation calmed Anne’s mind to such an extent that she did not make Gilbert suffer so acutely on the way home as she had deliberately intended to do.” Doesn’t that sound like old Anne, who punished Gilbert for years for calling her “carrots”? I like that LMM includes bits of their personalities from the early books, as opposed to constantly having the characters recall things they did as youths.

Finally, I want to touch on my expectations of characters. In my Book #3 review, many of you pointed out that I could not hold LMM’s characters to contemporary standards when I noted that there were two scenes in which animals are killed (or almost killed) simply because the characters did not want those animals. In Book #5, Captain Jim notes that it is horribly cruel for people to let animals die. The harbor is a summer vacation place, so people take on pets and then abandon them behind when they leave. Because Captain Jim was able to identify a dead cat curled around her living kittens, he went to the owner the next summer when she came back and tore her a new one. Now, you might be thinking, “Come on, Melanie, those cats starved to death. Anne and her friends were going to straight-up kill their cat. It’s not the same — letting animals starve is cruel.” I’ll say it again: in both cases, people did not want cats. In both cases, no one tried to re-home the cats. Since Book #3, LMM has made cats a staple of her stories, and they are frequently re-homed, which means it’s something people do.

Early in Book #5, though, Anne mentions that foreign missionaries encounter cannibals. This, I did not mind. Think about it: Avonlea just got phones. Anne’s never left Canada. Her sources are print books, local newspapers, and what she’s heard. For instance, Heart of Darkness was published in 1899 and based on Joseph Conrad’s own experiences. He writes that there are cannibals in the Congo. For someone without Wi-Fi, whose never traveled, Anne only has the information about Africa that is provided to her, whether or not it’s accurate.

Book #5 was a great read, and I thoroughly convinced LMM writes a hit every other book in the series.

20booksfinal

#20BooksofSummer

This book was read as part of Cathy 746’s challenge to read 20 books between June 1st and September 5th. Here’s the roster:

  1. Harley and Me by Bernadette Murphy
  2. On Air by Robin Stratton
  3. Single Stroke Seven by Lavinia Ludlow
  4. Girls of Usually by Lori Horvitz
  5. Retelling by Tsipi Keller
  6. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  7. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  8. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
  9. Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America by Jonathan Kozol
  10. Terror in Taffeta by Marla Cooper
  11. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  12. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  13. Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  14. Anne of Windy Poplars by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  15. Anne’s House of Dreams by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  16. Anne of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  17. Rainbow Valley by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  18. Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  19. Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher by Monica Nolan
  20. Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore

Meet the Writer: Robin Parks #AuthorInterview @ShadeMountainPr #food

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Meet the Writer: Robin Parks #AuthorInterview @ShadeMountainPr #food

I want to thank Robin Parks for answering my questions. Her short story collection, Egg Heaven, published by Shade Mountain Press, is set mostly in diners and eateries in Southern California and explores the folks who people those places. Parks is also the Managing Editor at Referential Magazine.  Learn more at her website.

Grab the Lapels: What would you like readers to know about your book, Egg Heaven?

Robin Parks: There is a lot of food in it to make up for the sorrow. Plus, if you’ve never been to a Southern California beach, these stories will take you there; also, to the great California desert where a Jewish diner gathers dust and tumbleweeds. Sorry, yucky food there. Ketchup packets. That stuff.

egg heaven

GTL: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

RP: Like any other writer, I wanted my words to always, always cast a loving light on my characters. With short stories, every single sentence holds the character it its hands, offers the character up to the reader: “Hi, love me!” Mostly this is so easy. But sometimes…not so much. Dread sets in, you know? Have I made my characters less than they are? Not proven them as deep and subtle and strong as they really are? Oy.

GTL: What are your current writing projects?

RP: My current writing project is Managing Editor for my husband as he drafts his memoir. You won’t believe how beautiful his writing is!

GTL: What was the first piece of writing you did that you remember being happy with?

RP: This is like asking about the first time you had a good time in bed. It really is! Hmmm. There were a few good times leading up to this one, but this one lasted a looooong time and I remember it vividly. I had the story “Home On the Range” in my head — at least the main characters, whom I found while wandering around a thrift store in Long Beach, California. But when I knew I was ready to begin writing the story, I walked fast in my neighborhood every morning composing that First Sentence in my head. It was soooooo much fun. Sooooo exhilarating. Like touching someone beautiful for the first time, only again and again in different spots, for the first time. I just kept walking and starting over, walking and starting over.

Ummm, I have to admit I ended up with not my best First Sentence ever, but maybe it wasn’t really the First Sentence I was so awash in. Maybe instead it was that I knew — knew! — that First Sentence was going to lead to something good. I was embarking on a good story. I’m sure most writers feel this rush, that something good is going to come of this impulse: the girl, the sky, the spot of blue, what he muttered…. Why else would we go on?

robin parks

GTL: What did you want to be when you grew up, and does this choice influence your writing today?

RP: Alive? Okay, too dark. But truly there is a reason there is so much food in my stories. I grew up in households where there just wasn’t anything to eat. I write about it in “Thanksgiving,” an essay in The MacGuffin. So yes, let me give a reader something to eat, or something to fill that soul longing empty grasping hunger. Love? A moment of love. A moment of love will save anyone’s life.

GTL: Many times writers find a creative niche and community. What do you think is yours?  

RP: Shade Mountain Press (listen up, women!).


Special Note: Robin Parks’s publisher, Shade Mountain Press, is now accepting submissions from African American women until September 1, 2016. If you, or anyone you know, is interested, please head to the guidelines page!

#TechTip #WordPress : #Widgets & Blogrolls

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#TechTip #WordPress : #Widgets & Blogrolls

Welcome back! This is my 4th installment of #TechTip Thursdays, and I’m so glad that many have you have found my advice useful. I am not strictly a technophile, so I do my best to explain things without using too much jargon. Which leads me to today’s topic: widgets.


Problem: You have no idea what a widget is or how to use them.

When I first heard the word “widget,” I was like, “Nope, not for me.” Mainly, it was because I didn’t know what a widget is! Wikipedia defines a Widget as “a small application with limited functionality that can be installed and executed within a web page by an end user.” Okay, that’s not too scary, but how do you install a widget? What is its function? Who is the end user?

The end users are the people who visit your blog and click buttons. That’s about the long and short of it.

The function of a Widget is often to get people to do or see something: follow your blog, sign up for e-mail notifications, showcase which bloggers you follow, or let people know which social media you’re on. There are a lot of widgets, and they can get complicated, especially when people get fancy and using coding. I am not a coder. The only coding I do is to make hyperlinks on Goodreads, so this #TechTip is only about the widgets WordPress offers to you.


Where to Find the Widgets:

  1. Sign in to your WordPress account
  2. Click “My Site” in the upper right
  3. Scroll all the way to the bottom to “WP Admin” and click
  4. Hold your mouse over “Appearance”
  5. Click “Widgets” from the list that appears
  6. The left side of the page tells you what widgets are available. If you are not familiar with one, you probably don’t want it anyway. Look around and see what’s there.

Which Widgets Should You Choose? This all depends on what you want your readers to see. For me, the important things I want readers to see are the follow my blog button, my social media icons, a button to get my posts by email, a blogroll, a search box, and the categories I use to distinguish the types of posts I create (I have book reviews, meet the writer features, book blog tours, tech tips, and misc.).

There are some widgets I know people have that I don’t find terribly useful as a reader. Examples: a Goodreads update, a Twitter feed, “Topics” (that block of words that represent tags you’ve used, and the more often you use a tag, the bigger the word), or a list of comments other people have made on your blog.

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I’m not going to click your most popular topic and hope it suits me wonderfully.

In terms of you include feeds of your social media — like Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook — I’ll follow you if that’s what I want. If I’m following you on social media, I don’t need your feed reiterated on the side of your blog. The “Topics” thing never helped me because I don’t go to blogs looking for one tag. As for other people’s comments? Without context, they mean nothing, so I don’t even read them.

Whichever widgets you choose, you can drag and drop them to the “Default Sidebar” category. This puts the widget on the side of your blog. If you’re on your computer, you can see my widgets over on the right.

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My widgets look like this.

There is also the “First Supplementary Widget Area” and the “Second Supplementary Widget Area.” Whatever widgets you drag and drop into these two will appear at the bottom of your blog post.

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Available widgets on the left, default sidebar near the middle, the the supplementary widgets listed.


Which Widgets Should You Choose? This is totally up to you and what you what to include for your readers. Here are some of mine:

To Archive or Search:

I’ve seen many people include an archive, which lists the months and years during which they’ve published blog posts. I used to have such a list, but I don’t like it anymore. After 3+ years of blogging, it’s too long and takes up too much space. Besides, how often do readers think, “Ah, I really want something from June 2012”? But how will readers find my old posts? I opted for a “search” widget instead. It’s the first thing in my “Default Sidebar” list and is a basic search box. Type in a key word or author’s name — something relatively close to my post — and you’ll find it.

Follow Me in Various Ways:

Next, I chose the “Follow Blog” button, which lets readers sign up to get Grab the Lapels in their e-mail. Under that is the “Follow Button.” This is important for my fellow WordPress users who want to get more from Grab the Lapels in their reader feed.

Next, I’ve got the social media icons. The theme I chose for my blog (that colorful painted-looking background) makes the icons small. I’ll deal with it, because I love the background. WordPress prompts you to easily set up your social media if you choose that widget.

Categories for Easy Navigation:

If readers are coming for one thing, they can click a category and skip everything else. Some readers come to Grab the Lapels just for the #TechTips. They don’t want book reviews, and that’s fine — they can click the Tech Tip category. I wish people would use categories more with the reader in mind. For instance, if you like to do Top-Ten Tuesday or Salon Sunday or Bookish And Not So Bookish Thoughts, you could have a category for each of those. Book reviews would be its own category, making it easier for readers to navigate your site if they don’t want to read lists, thoughts, recipes, see vacation photos, or whatever else you’ve included on your blog that doesn’t fit the theme (such as being primarily a book review blogger but including pictures of your kids).

Giving a Shout Out to Bloggy Buddies:

After the follow buttons, I have what is called a blogroll. This allows you to share which blogs you follow. You can split them into categories or just have one big blogroll. I have “Bookish Blogs” (book reviewers, writers, people who interview writers, etc.) and “Bravely Blogging.”

I change my blogroll a lot to keep it up-to-date. An outdated blogroll is useless to your readers and suggests you don’t really follow those blogs (if a blog you follow hasn’t been updated since 2011, you would know that).

I also change my blogroll to reflect bloggers I respect and whom I feel respect the blogging community — they follow you back, and they comment on your posts. If someone sort of disappears on me, I take their name off the blogroll. For me, the “Bravely Blogging” category includes folks who don’t write about books and typically don’t follow me back, but I’m interested in their content. Here’s a simple image to show you how to add/delete blogs on a blogroll:

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Hover your mouse over “Links.” It’s just above “Appearance, where you checked out widgets.”

“All links” takes you to all of the blog links you’ve added. “Add New” is where you go to add a new blog to the blogroll, and “Link Categories” is where you can create categories (give them a name and description). Not everyone uses “Link Categories,” and it’s not necessary!

When you add a new blog, include the name of the blog, the URL (I always go to the blog’s home page and copy/paste), choose a category (if you’re doing that), and click “Add Link” over on the right. There is an option to keep a link private; I’m not sure why you would want to do that. There’s also an option to describe what the blog is about. I don’t do that, as it’s extra work and I feel readers should just take a chance and click the link!


The Order of Widgets: The order in which your widgets appear is actually pretty important. You want the most necessary stuff up top of your blog page and the extra stuff near the bottom. You also want the widgets to look aesthetically pleasing. There were two widgets I had next to each other, but when I looked at my site, they looked awful together — cramped and hard to separate. Play around with the order of your widgets, and always double check by opening a new tab to look at your site as readers would see it. Do you like the appearance? If you don’t, go back to the widget page and drag and drop the widgets within the “Default Sidebar” list. If you feel like a certain widget just doesn’t look right on the side of your page, drag and drop it to one of those “Supplementary” lists to include it at the bottom of blog posts.


Your Opinions: If you have set up some widgets, which do you use? If you didn’t know what a widget was, but you knew blogs had stuff on the sides of their pages, which stuff do you find most useful? Media icons? Search boxes? Calendars? Most recent posts? Let me hear what you think! I don’t claim to know the best widgets for you and your blog. I can only say what works for me as a reader and try to mimic that on Grab the Lapels.

tech tips from gtl

 

The Tide King #BookReview #MagicalRealism #war @MichalskiJen @BlackLawrence

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The Tide King #BookReview #MagicalRealism #war @MichalskiJen @BlackLawrence

On Monday, I posted a Meet the Writer feature with Jen Michalski in which she discussed her new novel. The book, The Summer She Was Under Water, was published yesterday, August 9th! Congrats, Jen! Be sure to sign up for her Goodreads giveaway for a chance to win a copy.


The Tide King by Jen Michalski

published by Black Lawrence Press, 2013

I start with my admissions: I wrote book reviews regularly for Jen Michalski at JMWW and I’ve reviewed her other works, the collection Close Encounters and, more recently, Could You Be With Her Now (two novellas in one book). Jen also hired me to coordinate a book blog tour of her collection, From Here. It’s always nice to help someone get the word on her book out — assuming the review is honest. I’m often attracted to other writers whom I’ve found are meticulous, hard-working, good at her craft, and can teach me something. Jen Michalski is one of those writers, which is why I had no concerns about taking on her first novel for review.

The Tide King begins with the most current date you will encounter, 1976. A man, woman, and girl get into a cab in Poland make the driver uncomfortable: why are these individuals unusual, their eyes and mannerisms not fitting for their bodies? The young man and woman are American, but the girl is Polish, and so he speaks to her in the language, asking if she will be alright.The Tide King Michalski

Fall back to 1942 where we meet Stanley Polensky and Calvin Johnson, soldiers, and two of the main characters. We learn that Polensky’s mother has given him an herb that is said to protect the person who ingests it. He keeps it in his helmet, assuming his mother is just superstitious. After reading detailed battle scenes from World War II (impressive!), you will learn that Polensky uses the herb — but on who, or what? That is all I will tell you.

Go even further back to 1806 when we meet a girl, Ela, and her mother, whom are considered witches in their village of Reszel, Poland, because they make tinctures. They find an herb — burnette saxifrage — that grows in on land that has been struck by lightning. Through experiments with animals, the mother learns that the herb is special, causing the animals to repair even the worst of mutilation. Is this herb an elixir for immortality?

As you read, it becomes easy to discern who the man and little girl in the cab from the prologue are. But, Michalski keeps you guessing as to who the woman is. Several women are good candidates, making this novel part of many genres: mystery, war, romance, fairy tale, and — maybe? — Gothic.

 

Overall, the plot is an amazing feat of Michalski juggling characters, time periods, and languages — and she never drops a ball. The prologue, as I described, puts you at the end of the book, and the end of the book takes you back to the beginning. 1976 was a satisfying stopping point, but I can’t really convince you of that without evidence, which would blow some of the best plot points.

That’s just the thing! I am a verbal reader; I make a lot of sounds like, “Gah!” and “Duuuude!” and “Whhha?” when I get into a book. You see, these characters, especially the secondary, will bring you up and let you down. They were so… human /fickle /unpredictable! I wanted things to turn out like _________, but then the character would do something that really suited him/her, things I didn’t think Michalski would allow to happen, but she did! I tried to expect the characters to be unexpected — a mighty challenge that kept me reading way too late at night (something I haven’t done since my years with the Sweet Valley Twins in the early 90s).

Michalski gets readers thinking when she writers her characters before they are immortal. We can see ourselves on the pages, reflected in the choices the characters make regardless of the repercussions. Youth are easy to relate to, as they can ignore mortality:

He was young, and there wasn’t much to think about, in terms of consequences. He was young and didn’t know what lay ahead, which was the beauty of being young — so many risks taken before one has the sense to realize the dangers. He was young and going to fight [in World War II].

But what if you can live forever, as opposed to simply thinking you will because you’re young? Michalski tackles that question when she gives us truisms by which we may live. Or, we can dismiss them in favor of our own search for meaning in life. When you’re lonely finding a partner to fill the loneliness isn’t always the answer:

“I haven’t really met anyone here. But I have friends. I travel. I know that you don’t want to hear this, Heidi, particularly since you struggle with it so much yourself, but people are lonely a lot. Even if there is someone. There’s always a loneliness that people can’t fill, that pets can’t fill. And you have to make peace with it because you come into the world alone and you go out the same way.”

The sentences themselves, even when following male characters who were veterans (often stereotyped as macho), have a tender beauty. A character who lives forever describes what it means to find a woman with whom he fills a kinship:

She had grounded him. He didn’t feel essential to himself, even alive in a normal sense, but he felt tethered to Kate, her gravity keeping his moon rotating, surviving its long trip around the galaxy.

Michalski has a great talent for writing similes, comparisons that seem so fitting. A simple truck is compared to a beast, but it tells about the man who owns the truck, too: “In the vestibule, she saw her father’s truck through the front doors, its monstrous orange chassis shuddering, smoke pouring out of the damaged muffler like some ancient, grouchy dragon.” Imagine the father, who owns the truck: perhaps a broken-down (physically, mentally) man who smokes, who is unpleasant to be around.

The end of the novel, which gets you back to where you started, practically forces you to re-read that 1976 prologue to see what the man, woman, and little girl are like, now that you know who they are. But my fingers tried to trick me; I re-read the prologue and started to turn the next page to the first chapter again….

I want to thank you Jen Michalski for sending me this reviewer’s copy in exchange for an honest review.