Tag Archives: reading

Oh Those Wonderful Librarians!

Remember those days as a kid, wandering into the library and being guided to a book by the librarian? I have very fond memories of both school and public librarians of my childhood years. Their recommendations provided me rich rewards and a deep appreciation for books.

At the end of May, I had the honor to participate in a panel of authors at the Library Journal Day of Dialog. The audience was an energetic collection of librarians from across the U.S. That experience brought home to me once again just how large the role of librarians is in our lives as readers and writers.

As children, most of us rely on adults to shape our reading choices. If we are lucky, we encounter those wonderful mentors who have noted our interests and taken the time to get to know us. They lead us to new authors, suggest unfamiliar books, and launch us into great adventures.

I recall the librarian in the children’s section of the public library helping my sister pick out my earliest books. She always made sure we left with a pile of five or six or seven and fostered my initial love of books and the library so much that I played “library” with friends, creating cards for each of my own books and carefully entering names and dates each time I loaned to a friend…even if it was only for the couple hours of play time.

In my elementary years, my school librarian walked me through the Paddington Bear series, showed me the biography section, told me about Maud Hart Lovelace (the Betsy-Tacy series); suggested the Boxcar Children and Happy Hollister mysteries, made sure I found all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and let me read Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret a year early (it was restricted to sixth graders).

When I moved, just before sixth grade, the public librarian in my new community led me through their entire Nancy Drew collection during my first six months in the small town– I think I read ninety-nine books in that time (they didn’t have the entire series). When new books came in, she always made sure I knew about them. She introduced me to YA, long before it was called YA—I’ll never forget Lois Duncan, Betsy Byars, and Judy Blume. She and made sure I didn’t miss Gone with the Wind and other classics. Then, just as I was tiring of Harlequin’s sweet romances, she put Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and LaVyrle Spencer into my hands and sealed my fate.

With each move I made during my adult life, I always found the library. While I didn’t forge the relationships with librarians that I had during childhood and adolescence, they always remained important to me.

As an author, I find librarians still play a big role in my life. Five Star Publishing focuses on the library market. Thus, libraries make up the bulk of my sales and librarian recommendations drive increases in my readership. The Day of Dialog brought me face to face with many of those librarians responsible for building collections. They were articulate, curious, intelligent, nurturing men and women…just like all the librarians I remember in my life…and I can’t help waxing nostalgic as a result.

What memories do you have of librarians? Do they still play a role in your life? In your children’s lives? Tell us about them.

Then…remember to tell them!!

Alice Kober Has Your Reading Covered

By Liesa Malik

How many books will you read this year?

Alice KoberAs authors, we have a certain obligation to become “super readers,” which are readers, according to Alice Kober of the Arapahoe Library District, who read at least eleven books a year. If this sounds like your kind of goal, then you are doing well. But Alice may have you beat. She tries to read approximately 100 books each year.

This wonderful former host and judge committee of one for the annual Rick Hansen Simile contest at the Colorado Gold Conference has a substantial commitment to reading, writing, and all things books. A member of RMFW since 1993, Alice has made the world of books her domain.

 Super Reader

“It’s so hard for me to hang out with people who don’t read,” said Alice recently. “Reading is a passion of mine.” This is a good thing, as Alice’s role with the library is that of Adult Fiction Collection Librarian. That means she buys the print, audio, e-books, down-loadable materials and anything related to adult fiction for all of the Arapahoe Library District. “I’m an on-line shopper,” said Alice with her typical ring of humility.

Besides her personal commitment to a high level of reads for each year, Alice also posts several reviews on Goodreads. She said she used to review on Amazon as well, but doesn’t go there any more.

“I just hate Amazon reviews because they have paid reviewers. People are all saying it’s just crooked. There were authors out there deliberately panning other people’s books. I have found a lot more authenticity on Goodreads,” she said.

Dedicated Librarian

Besides her job as personal shopper for the patrons of Arapahoe County, Alice spends a good deal of her time looking for the next great book. She refers to many sources for top-selling titles that may be of interest to patrons.

“For less commercial books, I look at Indie-Next—The Independent Booksellers’ Association. And I also read Romantic Times, Locus (for science-fiction), Mystery Scene, Oprah’s list, Entertainment Weekly, People Magazine, New York Times Review of Books. So I’m looking at everything from literary fiction to action/adventure.”

“I look at my job as buying chocolate, in that reading is entertainment. There’s dark chocolate and there’s milk chocolate and there’s nuts’n’chews. There’s even orange centers.

“I really dislike it when some people will criticize inspirational fiction or romance or whatever. I feel that I represent the taxpayers of the Arapahoe tax district. Some people want erotica, some people want what we call ‘clean reads,’ and I try to get something of everything.”

Picking Books To Shelve

Another part of being the Adult Fiction Collections Librarian, is to develop sets of books patrons may want to read. One of the collections Alice works on is a local author set.

“We have a Colorado Author’s collection at Arapahoe County and I’ve been posting that on the RMFW loop. Those books have a special sticker for Colorado Author, and they circulate well,” said Alice. “Our patrons are very interested.”

If you are a published author and member of the RMFW loop, please contact Alice with your title, ISBN number and publishing date, so she can review your book for possible future purchase.

Some other tips for getting your books in the libraries:

  • Librarians prefer requests via email as opposed to phone calls.
  • When you query, provide links to reviews, past publishing successes and awards, and anything that shows your author platform or publication history.
  • Know and be able to articulate your reader appeal. For example, if your book is a futuristic romance then let your librarian know that it would appeal to readers of Jayne Castle.
  • Americans are visual. Make sure your cover is professional looking.
  • If you’re an independently published author, be sure your work is thoroughly copy-edited before publication.
  • Please don’t ask for a book review.
  • Remember, libraries are a great way for readers to discover new authors. Visit and get to know your librarians.

For Alice, the trends in reading constantly change, so purchasing for Arapahoe remains a challenging and fun position.

“I’ve read a lot of articles and I think people are reading shorter things. They talk about people’s attention spans changing, but there’s a Pew study on e-reading that says ‘3 in ten adults read an e-book last year. Half of them own an e-reader.’ Reading is all over the place. I keep buying my books and hoping.”

So, what’s your next read? Tell us in the comments below. Alice and all of us at RMFW would be interested to know. Maybe you can get it at the library.

Early Influences

By Katriena Knights

 

I’ve been watching a lot of retro TV lately, as I mentioned in some of my earlier posts. I’ve also been reading books I read when I was in junior high (shut up—that’s what we called it back then…) and high school. To my surprise, I’ve been enjoying most of it, and I’ve also noticed some things that made me go “Hmmmmm.”

I’ve always been a voracious reader. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read, since my mom taught me how when I was about 3 ½ so I would quit dictating poems to her under the door when she was trying to go to the bathroom. In kindergarten I was reading EB White, and by junior high I was devouring Andre Norton, Heinlein’s kids’ books, Isaac Asimov, et. al. And of course Tolkien, but that would make an entire blog post on its own.

I recently discovered a slew of Andre Norton books on Amazon for free and for very low prices. So I grabbed a big selection of them and started reading. I was almost afraid to, thinking I’d see all the flaws and have no fun at all. But I was pleasantly surprised. Pick them apart all you want, but her books are a fun ride.

I also started noticing things that reminded me of my own writing. She jumps right into the middle of the story and usually leaves you to figure out what backstory there is (she’s not big on backstory in many cases). Things move fast, and the characters are often thrown into the middle of situations they have no control over. Something about her characters have a feel that reminds me of some of my earlier heroes—and some of my more recent ones, too. And that backstory thing—I don’t think I’ve ever written a book where I didn’t have to go back and add layers because I just plowed forward without thinking much about the characters’ histories. From now on I’ll blame Andre Norton for that.

As far as TV, I found a hint of some of my strong, independent female characters in Laura Holt from Remington Steele. But I’ve been most surprised by shows I used to watch in the 70s and how they’ve affected my characterizations of same-sex male couples.

When I first wrote Dark Callings, my first professional venture into m/m romance (written as Elizabeth Jewell), I thought I was totally inspired by the US version of Queer as Folk, as well as a lot of slash fanfiction I’d read over the years before I wrote it. But now, going back and re-consuming my adolescent favorites, I’m seeing influences from relationships in those shows. You can tell me there’s no homoerotic subtext in shows like Starsky & Hutch, CHiPs, and Emergency (you’d be wrong, especially with S&H), but the interactions between the leads, the power shifts and the hurt/comfort subplots—I can see all those influences in current books where the intimate relationship between two very dominant males is paramount. Oddly, though, somehow I never pair them up with one blond dude and one dark-haired dude.

I’m not sure why I’ve been revisiting these stories and shows. Maybe it’s part of yet another midlife crisis. But it’s been an interesting journey to revisit the media I devoured back then and see how it’s been absorbed, rearranged, and spat back out. I’d be curious to know if anyone else has had this experience. Have you ever read a book you loved when you were younger and seen elements of your own writing in it somewhere? Has it surprised you? Are you, like me, going to blame all your thin backstory on Andre Norton from now on?

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Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog.

An Awkward Confession

By Mary Gillgannon

I’ve been writing historical romance for over twenty years. In the beginning, the genre was also my favorite reading material. I read the best-selling romance authors to find out what magic they worked to rise to the top. I read the “up-and-comings” to see what they offered and get a feel for the direction the market was headed. And I read pretty much anything in my preferred sub-genre, medieval and Viking romances. I once heard that before writing a book in a particular genre, you should read a hundred books of that type. Over the first few years of my writing career, I probably did that.

But gradually I got away from reading historical romance. I discovered historical mysteries, which helped me immerse myself in the world and time period I was writing in and often gave me new ideas for stories that were more unique than the ideas I got from romances. I dabbled in literary fiction, which had been my preferred reading in college and immediately afterwards. Chick lit came along and I ate it up. Fantasy started getting popular and I added it to my reading “oeuvre”. Then, a few years ago, I stumbled onto a contemporary mystery I really liked and started reading them too.

I’m currently writing my fifteenth historical romance, and yet I have to guiltily admit that, except for books written by friends, I haven’t read a historical romance from start to finish in years. I have good intentions. I purchase e-books that sound interesting and download free copies to help other authors get exposure. I order historical romances for the library where I work and sometimes even check them out. But some other book (or books) always seems to be calling me, and I never get far into the romances before I move on.

It doesn’t help that I acquire fiction as part of my job at a public library and read dozens of reviews every month, covering fiction in all sorts of genres. I usually skim the non-fiction reviews, too, adding to my choices. When I check in the new books (to confirm the cataloging is correct, etc.) I set aside the order slips of those I’m interested in. I now have a pile about fifty order slips on my desk. I’d like to read these books, but it seems like there’s always something new and irresistible and I seldom end up going to “the pile”. I guess I’m sort of ADHD when it comes to reading for pleasure.

Lately I’m obsessed with gritty contemporary mysteries set in the British Isles. I could never write stories like these. I don’t have a good feel for contemporary dialogue and as an American, I certainly couldn’t pull off the slang or the authentic local details that make these books so intriguing to me. For the most part, I avoid portraying much violence in my own stories (they are romances, after all), while these mysteries are full of dark and disturbing scenes. They also don’t have “happily ever after” endings. Indeed, sometimes the endings are downright grim.

I suspect that my preference for reading books that are nothing like what I write is a little weird. When I read interviews with writers and they discuss their reading habits, they may mention stories that are a bit different than what they write, but not usually the complete opposite. I’ve tried to analyze why my tastes are this way. Maybe it’s because when I’m writing, I’m living in that world on a much more intense level than when I’m reading. When I’m writing as a character, I really am that character, and I don’t want them to endure too much violence, pain or suffering because I don’t want to experience it myself on that intense level.

It’s one thing to be exposed to darkness and evil vicariously. Another to feel like you’re actually living it. In the books I read, I identify and care about a lot of the characters, but I don’t become them the way I do my characters. I can read a gritty mystery and go on an exciting, vicarious ride. But I don’t envision my real self in that world.

I’ve heard other authors complain that writing fiction takes away from enjoying reading it. You become too critical of technical details, too aware of pacing flaws and places where the characterization is weak, etc. You stop reading as a reader and start reading like an editor. For the most part, I’m pretty forgiving and tolerant of these things. If I find the story compelling, I can ignore a lot of issues that might bug some of my writer friends.

At least when I’m reading non-romances. When I read a romance, it’s much harder for me to turn off the editor in my head. And even if I have no problems with the writing itself, it’s hard for me not to think about how I would write the story. That puts a distance between me and the story and makes it hard for me to really immerse myself in the book. More specifically, other authors’ fantasies are not my fantasies, and that is ultimately a very important component of the romance reading experience.

Despite all these things, I plan to keep trying to read more romance. After I get through the two mysteries and the historical novel I’m waiting to come in at the library, and that book I just ordered that sounds so interesting and well… you know the rest.

What about you other writers out there? Is there a big discrepancy between your reading and writing interests?

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Mary GillgannonMary Gillgannon writes romance novels set in the dark ages, medieval and English Regency time periods and fantasy and historical novels with Celtic influences. Her books have been published in Russia, China, the Netherlands and Germany. Raised in the Midwest, she now lives in Wyoming and works at public library, where she she has the enviable task of purchasing adult fiction. She is married and has two grown children. When not working or writing she enjoys gardening, traveling and reading, of course! For more about Mary, visit her website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook.

Reading Like a Writer

By Lori DeBoer

We read for many reasons—to be entertained, to be swept up in a story, to be transported into an interesting world, to laugh, to cry, to learn, to gain insight and to be inspired. But when we become writers, we need to read like a writer. We become active readers, slowing down the process and becoming conscious of the material. We examine published writing to learn what moves us, to figure out what works and what—in our not-so-humble opinion—doesn’t. By doing so, we gain insight into what we want to write and how we want to write it. Ultimately, we learn about both craft and art by reading and emulating great writers.

Someone reading for merely for pleasure engages in a passive process—he or she may romp through a book or story but probably doesn’t spend much time thinking about what went into it. An active reader may read something the first time through for pleasure, but pays attention to which parts of the story were memorable, which passages were funny, sad, thrilling or merely confusing. An active reader goes so far as to make notes in the margin to flag passages that call for a more in-depth look. Active reading requires revisiting a piece of writing many times to understand its underlying structure and all its nuances.

When I worked as the public relations director for the Liquid Crystal Institute, a research center at Kent State University, I remember that one of the research scientists showed me a really expensive, tiny computer from a competitor that he was going to take apart.

“This will show me they work.”

“Can I have one after you’re done?” I asked.

He looked at me, frowning. “After I reverse engineer them, they won’t work anymore.”

Lucky for us, when we reverse engineer a piece of writing—taking it apart to see what components it contains and how they fit together—we rarely ruin the story. In fact, we can come to appreciate the story even more because the skill of the writer is revealed. Reverse engineering is a good model for the process of active reading.

Another way of thinking about being an active reader is to think about a piece of writing the way you would a house. If we visit someone’s house for the first time, we like taking a tour and looking at all the cool pictures and furniture. If you were an interior decorator, you might observe that the rooms are harmonized with blue and red accents, or that the walls have a rich, faux paint. An architect, however, would likely visit the house and become engaged by its structure and design style, and perhaps may not be jarred if the décor doesn’t match the period. Bring along your buddy the building inspector, and you can bet he’s not going to go gaga over the décor or the architectural style. He’ll peer at the porch to see if it sags or has termites. He’ll poke around in the basement with a flashlight to see if the foundation stands firm.

Taking a cue from various building professionals, the professional writer needs to roll many roles into one, examining writing in the same way that a potential home owner might scrutinize houses. You need to incorporate not only your penchant for interior decoration (the aesthetics of the writing), but you need to cultivate your appreciation of architecture (how the story is designed) and the critical eye of the home inspector (for construction details such as grammar and spelling).

You can learn just as much from pieces you don’t care for as the ones that you love. Reading like a writer requires that you read widely, that you venture into territory outside of your preferred genre to see what you can bring back to sustain your own work.

Action Step:  Make a list of your all-time favorite books, essays or articles. Note the genre you like most to read. Leave room to jot down what you liked about these works. Be specific. Was the story riveting or were you most moved by the quality of the language? Did the characters stick in your head and heart?  You might want to revisit a few works in your personal library and read them more closely, practicing active reading.  Please let me know what discoveries you make.

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Lori DeBoerLori DeBoer is an author, freelance journalist and writing coach. She has contributed essays on writing to Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts, Keep It Real: Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Research and Writing Creative Nonfiction and A Million Little Choices: The ABCs of CNF. She is a contributing editor for Short Story Writer and director of the Boulder Writers’ Workshop. Her stories have been a Top-25 Finalist for the Glimmer Train Fiction Open as well as being shortlisted for the Bellevue Literary Prize. She’s been published in Arizona Highways, The Bellevue Literary Review, Gloom Cupboard, The New York Times, Iowa Woman, Pithead Chapel and America West Airlines Magazine. One of her clients was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and four of her clients have been finalists for the Colorado Gold Award.  For more information, visit her website and blog at www.lorideboer.net.