Summer Visits and Visitors

San Francisco

One of the main reasons D. and I chose to retire when we did was to spend more time with family, and this summer was rich with visits and travel, though we haven’t gone far from home. We’ve lived in Tacoma, Washington, for over two years now, and I’ve barely begun to explore the interesting places this area offers. Having guests helps. Have you noticed how often we neglect the tourist attractions in our own home territory until there’s a visitor to share them with?

Our summer actually began in late May, when I popped over to the Bay Area to visit with my mom and daughter. The three of us spent lots of time walking about, and found a path behind the ruins of Sutro Baths that led us to the view above. There’s something soothing about walks in Golden Gate Park, especially when the afternoon fog rolls in a patters my face with tiny kisses. The smell of the pines and eucalyptus trees sings to my heart of home.

Next we gathered with the G. clan near Phoenix for D’s son’s graduation from medical school. We were able to rent a house big enough for the lot of us, and there are a lot of us. The heat was fierce, but spirits were high as we celebrated a new beginning in the lives of M. and his marvelous girlfriend.

View of Lake Chelan from a hiking trail on the south shore.

View of Lake Chelan from a hiking trail on the south shore.

Back in Washington, D. and I celebrated our second anniversary at Lake Chelan in central Washington. It was bloody hot, but the views are gorgeous. We’d hoped to rent a canoe or small boat and putter about on the lake, but all we found were Jet Skis and speed boats–not at all conducive to leisurely rides. (There were kayaks too, but I’m allergic to any craft that’s hard to exit in an emergency. The point of a boat is to stay on top of the water, right?) To soothe our disappointment, we visited wineries. Nice.

USS Turner Joy

Back at home, D. and I visited Bremerton and toured the USS Turner Joy, a destroyer-class ship that played an important role in the Vietnam War. We had the great good fortune to meet John F. Keift, author of The Saltiest Ship in the Fleet, who gave us an extensive tour. Keift showed us the control room where the men who controlled the big guns watched radar blips that represented heavily armed Vietnamese fishing vessels zooming toward the ship. He spoke with gravity about pushing the buttons that erased those blips from the radar screen, knowing that each blip represented many lives.

In July, my mother came to Tacoma, where she and I explored every quilt shop we could find. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the art quilt exhibit in the Washington State History Museum, alas. I was expecting quaint bedspreads; instead, we were amazed by the depth, detail, and texture of the artwork on display. There was even a 3-D forest scene sculpted from cloth and fibers.

We also braved the hellish traffic to visit Seattle’s Museum of Asian Art in Volunteer Park. Lovely spot, and Capitol Hill is a lovely neighborhood, with beautifully restored historic homes and mature trees. In fact, a huge branch crashed to the street just outside the Volunteer Cafe, where Mom and I were eating lunch. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but what a shock to come home and find that a third of your tree has fallen into the street, blocking traffic. Anyway, the exhibit was entitled Mood Indigo and featured textiles and clothing from around the world colored with this precious blue.

Modern clothing is so boring compared to this.

Modern clothing is so boring compared to this.

Shorty after Mom left, my daughter came with her boyfriend. Nerds to the core, they enjoyed the Pokemon hunt at the fairgrounds in Puyallup. The state fair doesn’t open until Labor Day weekend, but the grounds were crawling with people intently staring at their phones–very funny to watch.

Hunting Pokemon at the Fairgrounds

A highlight of their visit was Seattle’s Experience Music Project Museum, where we saw sacred relics at the Star Trek exhibit,

Model used in filming the original Star Trek TV series

Model used in filming the original Star Trek TV series

wearable art,

Wearable art at EMP

and a tower of guitars that plays music for visitors.

Tower of Guitars at EMP

You haven’t really experienced Michael Jackson’s Thriller until you see it on the EMP’s ginormous screen. Why was I the only person dancing? The horror movie display is also not to be missed–delightfully creepy.

Closer to home, we finally visited Tacoma’s Union Station, now converted to a courthouse, which houses several works of Dale Chihuly’s blown-glass art. He’s a Tacoma native, and has richly decorated his home town.

Tacoma's Union Station

Summer’s winding down, despite our current heat wave, and I’m getting ready for a few mini-jobs in the local schools, plus the writing I’ve put on the back burner during all these visits.

I hope you’ve spent a restful summer with your nearest and dearest. What was your highlight?

 

 

Blood-Red Ink

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

It’s ISWG Wednesday again. The first Wednesday of each month, members of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group answer a question about writing and then hop about the blogosphere, checking out each other’s answers.

From the ISWG website: “The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is a home for writers in all stages; from unpublished to bestsellers. Our goal is to offer assistance and guidance. We want to help writers overcome their insecurities, and by offering encouragement we are creating a community of support.”

ISWG offers an impressive number of resources for writers. And this month’s question is: What was your very first piece of writing as an aspiring writer? Where is it now? Collecting dust or has it been published?

In Writing Fiction from Point Zero, June 6, 2016, I wrote about my first act of murder on paper, a story inspired by a crazy student during my early teaching years. I never finished that piece. Further literary murders followed as my then-marriage descended into nastiness. Just last week I found two short stories from that era than involve the demise of a scornful, demeaning husband. So therapeutic! I had no intention of publishing back then; I was just flexing my muscles, enjoying the creative process.

The first piece I wrote for publication was a cozy mystery entitled Murder on Principal. It’s the tale of a high school teacher who finds her principal dead in his office. Of course, she falls under suspicion, and when a second staff member is found dead, she tries to find the killer’s identity before s/he can strike again. You can read a sample in this year’s Guide to Literary Agents, in the section where a panel of agents critique first pages. Their comments were mixed; it’s a first novel, after all.

While my goal is traditional publication, I had a pretty realistic idea of my chances for getting this first novel published—that is, slim. Whisper-thin. Like, one cell thick. I used the revision and submission process as my training ground for future, more salable novels. I’m still entertaining notions about self-publishing it, though. There must be teachers like me who would enjoy reading about the demise of a sadistic principal. For now, my first novel is waiting patiently on the shelf for further attention.

Meanwhile, the blood-red ink continues to drip from my computer, as well as from my revision notes. I’m happily remarried and retired from teaching, and yet I can’t control my murderous impulses. I guess once you’ve tasted blood, there’s no turning back.

54 Marvelous Things

Fragrant mystery bush

Today's Ethnic Fest in Tacoma's Wright Park

Today’s Ethnic Fest in Tacoma’s Wright Park

I love the concept of a birthday week, because birthdays often fall on a day when it’s inconvenient or even impossible to celebrate properly, and a birthday always merits celebration. I’m a firm believer in celebrating milestones, big and small, and I know in my heart that birthday cake provides a shot of good juju.

This year my birthday fell on a Monday, and I had to drive my mother to the airport that day, so we celebrated on Sunday. I’ve been searching my brain for a 54-themed blog topic to celebrate my 54th birthday, and scribbled the flowing list yesterday at a meeting while someone was repeating, yet again, stories and recommendations that I’ve heard oh so many times. (May the gods save me from ever becoming such a person.)

To celebrate the end of my birthday week, here’s a list of fifty-four marvelous things that bring me joy. I’d love it if you’d add to the list, in case I’ve overlooked a potential source of joy. Since it’s summer, many of these are seasonal joys.

  1. Drinking my morning coffee outdoors while writing in my journal and listening to birdsong.
  2. Nature’s perfume. I don’t know what this flowering shrub is (above); it was planted by some previous owner of our house, and its scent is intoxicating.
  3. Kombucha! My sister-in-law turned me on to this stuff, and it’s so tangy and refreshing. It helps calm my belly, too.
  4. New friends. It’s funny how one new connection leads to another, and another, and another.
  5. Outdoor concerts. The little park in Old Town Tacoma offers a free concert every Wednesday—how marvelous! Gig Harbor offers free concerts on Tuesday, and Puyallup on Thursdays.
  6. Little children dancing at the above concerts. Wee ones are so utterly un-self-conscious, responding as the music moves them.
  7. Recipes on the internet. I love the ease of comparison, the helpful comment strings. It’s so easy now to come up with a tasty dish made of whatever odd ingredients I have on hand.
  8. Podcasts! I’m a late bloomer when it comes to tech. Lately I’m enjoying Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast, along with the Dead Robots’ Society, a fun program by and for writers. Listening to these lively conversations while walking or cleaning makes the time merrily, swiftly by.
  9. NPR while driving.
  10. Zumba!
  11. Cool, freshly-washed sheets.
  12. Our favorite walking path along Commencement Bay.
  13. Summer festivals: music fests, ethnic fests, food fests, beer fests…
  14. Thank you to the city leaders and philanthropists who set aside this land for our pleasure.
  15. A cucumber-mint mojito on the deck of Duke’s, overlooking Puget Sound.
  16. Trader Joe’s, especially their pot stickers.
  17. Sincere smiles
  18. The water-playground up the street. Children + water = fun.
  19. Happy dogs.
  20. The public library
  21. Taking time for a really good stretch after a workout.
  22. The fragrance of peaches, nectarines, berries—it nearly knocks me down when I enter the grocery store.
  23. Really fresh sweet corn.
  24. Sweet, mild onions in a salad.
  25. Growing tomatoes in my back yard.
  26. Laughing at my daughter’s jokes. Whether on Facebook, on the phone or in person, she has the most delightful talent for silliness.
  27. Nature shows on TV. Nothing holds my attention like that amazing photography, those soaring vistas, those startling close-ups, those life and death chase scenes.
  28. Blasting Latin music while cooking or cleaning. Sabor!
  29. Birthday greetings. I never get too old to be tickled by these.
  30. A new pen.
  31. A starry, starry night, especially when it’s warm enough to sit outside and enjoy the view.
  32. Iced coffee in the afternoon.
  33. Those little moments of shared humanity with a stranger, fleeting conversations and connections that remind us we’re all in this together.
  34. Watching the bees in the flowers.
  35. Watching the ducks do their bottoms-up dance in the pond. That’s always funny.
  36. A cold beer after a hot walk.
  37. A boat ride. I’m looking forward to riding the ferry to Seattle.
  38. A visit to an art museum or gallery.
  39. Reading outdoors.
  40. The feel of a summer breeze lifting my skirt.
  41. That wonderful scent of dry, warm pine needles as I walk through the forest.
  42. Grill time! There’s something so satisfying to our primitive nature when we cook food outdoors over fire.
  43. Playing guitars (uke, for me) around a fire pit.
  44. Late light evenings, when I can take a walk after dinner. Again and again, throughout the summer, I look outside and exclaim, “Look, it’s still light out!”
  45. A hot dog with all the fixings at the ball park.
  46. An afternoon nap outdoors, stretched out on a lounge chair.
  47. Surprise visits by hummingbirds.
  48. Gleaming, jewel-colored dragonflies. Everyone has their totem animal; these are mine.
  49. Huge, puffy clouds drifting by. Summer clouds have the most interesting architecture.
  50. A summer storm that makes the trees dance.
  51. Sitting out on the front stoop, watching the neighborhood roll/stroll by.
  52. Everyone looks cooler in a big straw hat.
  53. The scent of wild roses and linden trees.
  54. Only in summer and at Christmastime to we see so much of our friends and relatives. It’s good to catch up and laugh together.

Happy birthday to all you summer babies!

 

 

Have a NEAT Day: A Book Review and Testimonial

shoes and phone

Here’s where you get to say “I told you so.” A few months ago, I finally traded in my flip phone for a smarter model. I’ve long resisted that switch, but Hubs was upgrading his iPhone, and AT&T offered a two-for-one deal. I have to admit, it was getting pretty tiresome answering long texts on my ancient flip-phone, and it’s nice having a GPS that I don’t have to update. My new phone also has a pretty accurate step-counter, which has unleashed my inner statistician. Today I have walked 7, 359 steps. That leaves me fewer than 5K to go.

I’ve had pedometers before, but they’ve all stopped working, miscounted my steps, or ended up in the toilet—those waistband clips aren’t as secure as they ought to be. After tossing the sixth or seventh one, I figured I should be able to keep track of my activity level on my own, right? But there’s a big gap between “should do” and “do.” My phone has turned out to be a real boon in my effort to increase my daily activity. I also enjoy the Duolingo app, which has taught me such valuable Spanish phrases as “How many elephants eat rice?” “He is a double agent” and “I cannot die.” But that’s another story.

It’s a challenge for a desk worker like me, whose favorite hobby is reading, to get up out of that chair often enough to stay healthy. Until I earn enough to buy that treadmill desk I dream of, I need to retrain myself to get up frequently. Going to the gym or taking a walk each day is good for my health, but is not enough to counteract the harmful effects of all this sitting.

Get Up book

Here’s the book review part: I recently read Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, by James A. Levine, M.D.  Kudos to Dr. Levine for making many, many scientific studies on the effects of sitting accessible to a lay audience. My take-away from this easy-to-read book is the importance of getting out of my chair and adding more NEAT to my life. NEAT stands for nonexercise activity thermogenesis: walking around, fidgeting, doing chores–all the movements, little and big, that our increasingly chair-bound, digitally enhanced lifestyle has eliminated. Of course, we all know that too much sitting is bad for us, but before reading this book, I didn’t really grasp the extent of the problem across prosperous nations. I certainly know, however, how crappy I feel during and after a day spent sitting at my computer, no matter how fascinating the reading/writing tasks I do there.

Although he sometimes wanders a bit in his explanations, Dr. Levine’s writing is entertaining and convincing. A true believer, he presents plentiful evidence of the damage done by our chair addiction, as well as practical solutions to avoid that damage. On Dr. Levine’s advice, I now walk slowly around my house or around the block for 15 minutes after most meals, in addition to getting my behind out of the chair more frequently. I heartily recommend this book to all my chair-dwelling friends and family.

How do you incorporate movement into your workday?

High Praise from the Other Side

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

“I don’t usually like stories like this, but I really enjoyed reading yours.”

What’s the best thing someone has ever said about your writing? That’s this month’s question from the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a collection of bloggers whose topic is, at least sometimes, the writing life. Support and commiseration from other writers has been so helpful during these first years of my writing “career”—nothing published yet, but I am working on it.

My face-to-face critique group meets twice a month, an ever-revolving batch of local writers with a few core members, of which I’m one. We’ve had submissions of historical fiction, memoir, vampire romance, literary short stories, mortal romance, blog entries, folk tales, military fiction, speculative fiction, fiction for children, and poetry, but the greatest number of writers in the group are working on science fiction and/or fantasy. And then there’s me, with my contemporary women’s fiction and cozy mysteries. No explosions, no aliens, no vampires, and only a little sex.

It’s a valuable exercise for us all to look carefully at evolving stories in genres we’d never pick up off the book shelf. In general, romance novels send me into a diabetic coma. Anything that smacks of post-apocalyptic leaves me cold—I mean, we all face enough tragedy and hardship in real life; why wallow in it? I don’t find vampires at all sexy. Descriptions of military weaponry make me snooze. Fantasy can be so predictable: flying dragons, magic crystals, some chica finds out she’s the hereditary princess and must lead her people in an epic battle against Snog the Despicable… And don’t get me started on YA. After more than a quarter century of teaching teenagers, I don’t want to read about some kid coming of age in predictable ways, whether it’s on Planet Zoltron or in fourteenth-century France. And, other than the occasional female writer around my age, no group member would reach for a lighthearted tale of a middle-aged woman reinventing herself after her kids finally leave the nest.

And yet, good storytelling is good storytelling. My writing is definitely richer from having plunged into all these other genres. I’ve really enjoyed watching these tales of talking animals, mysterious space ships, time travel, epic battles, psychotic breaks, and teenage family drama coalesce into entertaining, moving stories. And when one of the group members tells me that he enjoys my writing despite a lack of interest in the subject matter, I know that I’ve hit the mark. So here’s to stretching ourselves as writers by sharing and critiquing across genres. We have so much to teach each other.

Book Review: The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, by Susan Jane Gilman

Ice Cream Queen

What a delight! Give yourself time to savor this bittersweet, funny, snarky immigrant tale, all 501 pages. We meet Lillian Dunkle, née Malka Treynovsky, as her family prepares to flee pogrom-afflicted Russia in 1913. Crippled by a traffic accident, abandoned by her shyster father and her crazy mother, little Malka is taken in by an Italian family in the ice cream trade, and ice cream becomes her guiding star. Sounds schmaltzy? Not at all; this is some of the finest historical writing I’ve read. Feisty, funny, snarky Malka/Lillian is driven by yearning for family, chisel-sharp ambition, and a wounded heart.  We follow her from her New York Jewish ghetto to fortune and fame as the Ice Cream Queen of America and beyond, into her feisty but very complicated old age. A mistress of historical fiction, Gilman plops us right down beside Lillian to experience most of the twentieth century though her eyes, and what a ride it is! Lillian is, at times, not a very nice person, but I still rooted for her as she went after those who’d wronged her along the way. As a bonus, I also leaned quite the arsenal of Yiddish expressions. Such naches I had from this book!

A Few of My Favorite Things: Books on Writing

Book Quote

As part of the promotion process for her newly released book DIY MFA, Gabrielle Pereira has given her “Street Team” of advance reviewers several interesting writing prompts. (Scroll down to see my review of her book and a link to her website.) This week’s question: What are your essentials? What are your go-to “read like a writer” resources?

In her book, Pereira reminds us of the importance of reading widely in the genre we write as well as outside our own genre(s). She calls it “reading like a revolutionary,” but most literature teachers just call it critical reading, which means noticing the effect an author achieves and examining how she achieves that effect. For example: “Wow, this scene really builds suspense! How did she do that? Aha—she used dramatic irony by showing us the vampire lurking in the shadows. Giving the protagonist too much coffee and a tendency to jump at harmless sounds also helps. And look at those short, choppy sentences. Cool.”

The novel I’m currently shopping around to literary agents falls into the women’s fiction genre, because the story revolves around the female protagonist’s personal growth and a family conflict, rather than solving a mystery, thwarting terrorists, falling in love (though she does that), rebelling against an evil space emperor, battling demons, traveling through time, daydreaming about what could have been while gazing at the endless Kansas prairies, conquering the music industry, etc. In an effort to understand the expectations of this genre’s readers, I’ve joined the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and am reading many women’s fiction titles. It helps—quite a lot.

My collection of reference books for writers

My collection of reference books for writers

Then there’s the question of reference books for writers. Well, here you go: In addition to a pile of magazines, mostly Writer’s Digest, I have quite a collection of reference books and how-to books for writers. I’ve learned something valuable from every one of them, and I pull them out for inspiration when I get stuck or when I’m starting a new project.

In addition to Pereira’s fine book, I also find these particularly valuable:

  • Plot and Structure, by James Scott Bell
  • Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, by Lawrence Block
  • A Handbook for Fiction Writers, also by Lawrence Block
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King
  • The Kick-Ass Writer, by Chuck Wendig

And, because I also like to write mystery stories:

  • The Elements of Mystery Fiction, by William G. Tapply
  • Don’t Murder Your Mystery, by Chris Roerden
  • Writing Mysteries, edited by Sue Grafton, with Jan Burke and Barry Zeman
  • How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, by Janet Evanovich, with Ina Yalof

Of course, I have the current Writers Market and Guide to Literary Agents. And I haven’t even begun to list my favorite blogs for writers; there are so many!

So there you go. I hope that was helpful to any writers who are building their own reference shelves. What are your favorite references for writers?

 

Feast or Famine

lonely beach

View from near the Cliff House, San Francisco

It’s the beginning of summer break, and the teacher mindset is still firmly rooted in my brain. I can’t help but feel a bit giddy when I see the kids celebrating the end of another school year. On the other hand, there’s a bit of a hollow thunk—echoes of summer loneliness from years past. I taught on U.S. military bases in Europe, and during the school year I had lots of fun companionship: my work friends were my after-work friends. But when the school year ended, my teacher friends scattered, many returning to the U.S. for the summer, leaving me with lots of free time but few companions to share it with.

One of the challenges of starting a new phase of life in a new place is finding interesting people to hang out with. We’re retired, but most of our friends and family are not, and that can make for more alone time that we’d like. Even an introvert like me craves company other than dear hubby from time to time. I continue to explore Meet Up groups in order to meet interesting people, especially newcomers to Tacoma who don’t yet have full dance cards. I’m meeting some very interesting women via a walking group, and plan to jump back into dance classes soon. Still, I must put forth an effort to find companions, and my friend-making skills, never very strong to begin with, have atrophied from so many years of living in a close-knit community. So far, it’s a hit-or-miss process: times when there’s lots of social fun to be had, followed by stretches where the few people I know well are all booked up. This is one of those famine times.

A few weeks ago I was feasting, surrounded by friends and family to celebrate a very happy occasion, my step-son’s graduation from medical school. The G clan gathered in Phoenix: three generations of extended family and friends, plus three generations of his marvelous girlfriend’s family. We rented a huge house where we cooked too much, laughed loudly, played guitars and splashed in the pool. It was a wonderful chance to commune with the family, and I was sorry to see it end—though not too sorry to leave behind Arizona’s extreme heat.

San Francisco

The view from Land’s End, San Francisco

Before that, I spent a week visiting my mother and daughter, who live together near San Francisco. I got to spend a day with the S clan, catching up with my brother and sister and their families. To celebrate my daughter’s twenty-third birthday, we went to see Beach Blanket Babylon, a hilarious musical send-up of current events, featuring outrageous costumes and huge hats. If you find yourself in SF, you must go see this show. We also walked lots: along Land’s End, and through Golden Gate Park, one of my favorite places.

The pagoda at Stowe Lake

The pagoda at Stowe Lake                           

The Rose Garden in Golden Gate Park

The Rose Garden in Golden Gate Park

The rose garden was in full glory, and Stowe Lake drew lots of happy people paddling and strolling. We also took in an exhibit of Oscar de la Renta’s dresses at the De Young Museum, including these two, worn by Sarah Jessica Parker and Taylor Swift. Lovely, eh?

dresses

Makes me want to take up sewing again.

But now we’re home again, and the pendulum has swung back to the solitary side. I must get back to work building new connections. Eventually, I’ll find the right balance between alone and together. May your summer be filled with as much company as you want—and as much solitude.

Book Review: Meet Me in Paris, by Juliette Sobanet

Meet Me In Paris

First of all, let me thank Ms. Sobanet for the free copy of Meet Me in Paris that she sent me in exchange for an honest review. Let me also disclose that I am not a fan of most romance fiction, finding it too formulaic, unrealistic and predictable. But I do love France, especially Paris, and I also love well-written memoirs of audacious women. I swallowed this romance writer’s memoir in one big, juicy gulp and can recommend in heartily to my romance-loving friends.

Any woman who’s been divorced, or who has contemplated divorce, will relate to Sobanet’s painful process of choosing between two men—and beyond that, between two potential lives. Throw her lifelong love for France into the mix and you have a big, messy dilemma. I was immediately drawn in, as if I were listening to a drama-prone friend pour her heart out. I was frustrated by this process; throughout her narrative, Sobanet is so buffeted by her emotions that she makes many self-destructive decisions–again and again, she finds herself sobbing on the bathroom floor. At times, it became tiresome, but something about her writing kept me turning pages.

Perhaps it was her bravery: she doesn’t spare us the details that made her look foolish or weak, and she doesn’t sugar-coat her bad decisions. Certainly, her love of Paris and Lyon shines through in her descriptions and reactions. I enjoyed meeting her fascinating friends, both in France and in the U.S. She also handles her sex scenes gracefully—I never cringed. While she has a tendency to repeat herself, she does finally come to a satisfying conclusion that has more to do with understanding herself than with finding the right guy.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read, and I may even try one of her Paris romances next.

 

Book Review: DIY MFA, by Gabriela Pereira

DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300

I was delighted to receive a free advance copy of Ms. Pereira’s newly-released how-to book for writers: DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community. Have a look here: http://diymfa.com/product/diy-mfa-book

In this volume, she promises the reader the most important lessons from a Masters of Fine Arts program in creative writing. After all, an MFA program requires a huge investment in time and money, and seldom focuses on genre/commercial fiction, which is why I’ve decided not to pursue that degree. Pereira is not the first to try to condense the best bits of an MFA into a book; in fact, I have on my bookshelf The Portable MFA in Create Writing by the New York Writers Workshop, published by Writer’s Digest Books in 2006, as well as forty-two other volumes on the craft of writing fiction. Why add another one?

Well, I’m always hoping for new nuggets of writerly wisdom and inspiration, and I found quite a few in DIY MFA. This book would be a good starting point for any writer who’s just beginning her reference library. Pereira doesn’t go into any one facet of the writing world in great depth, but she gives such a broad view of all the aspects of writerly success that every reader would most likely learn something valuable.

In the first section, Write with Focus, Pereira does a very solid job of presenting basic story structure, characterization, tips for busting through writer’s block, and other goodies that fiction writers need to know. Her background is in the design and data analysis, and she’s fond of acronyms and formulas. Her tone can be quite gushing: the book is liberally sprinkled with exclamation marks and phrases like “Awesomesauce.” My favorite nugget from the first section is her technique of outlining a plot in the style of a subway map, which was a great help to me with my current novel in progress.

In section two, Read with Purpose, we see Pereira’s scholarly training. I did appreciate her liberal use of examples from popular fiction: Pride and Prejudice, The Hunger Games trilogy, and the Harry Potter books. Her explanations of these examples, though, sometimes made me roll my eyes as she belabored the obvious. Her term for critical reading is “Read like a revolutionary”—but every high school student and college English major has done this type of examination of a writer’s technique. If it’s been a while since you’ve examined how a story was put together, you’ll find good reminders here.

It was in section three, Build Your Community, that I found the most value. In fact, I’d recommend buying the book just for this section. Pereira’s advice on critique groups should be read by everyone before they attend their first face-to-face meeting with such a group. Her advice on building your online presence and blogging was also detailed and up to date.

All in all, I found a great deal of valuable information and food for thought in DIY MFA. If you’re a writer in the early stages of your career, this volume belongs on your bookshelf—or in your Kindle. Also, be sure to check out her blog at DIYMFA.com, and her podcasts at DIY MFA Radio.