From coals to flames: A passion reignited

Soon after the release of A DEAD MAN’S EYES, I joined several Facebook groups geared toward readers and reviewers. My goal was promotion. I wanted to let readers know the book was out there and encourage reviewers to download the novel from NetGalley.

So I posted and I posted and I posted.

But there is one group I could not bring myself to include in my promotional efforts, The Book Hangout Spot. Yes, I have sometimes recommended my own novel when group members have indicated they are looking for a fast-paced read or a good mystery, but I usually find myself pushing the works of my favorite authors from all genres.

And I get a rush of excitement when I do it.

This particular group has reignited in me a passion that had been reduced to smouldering coals by my efforts to meet editing deadlines, write guest blog posts, do interviews and explore new ways to promote A DEAD MAN’S EYES. My to-be-read piles are huge but, in looking through them again, I now realize the books I feel I have to read outnumber the books I crave.

I want to support my crime-writing friends by reading their novels. I especially want to support my colleagues at Level Best Books by reading and promoting their awesome works. I also need to read new releases in my genre to keep up with the latest trends. Most of those novels are fantastic and I am glad to have read them, but I now understand I have been neglecting other authors and genres I love for more than a year.

I greatly enjoy mysteries and thrillers, but I love any book that is written on a level that transcends genre, including many crime novels.

I used to alternate books from two different to-be-read piles– one pile of crime fiction only and a second pile of books from other genres. But I looked on my nightstand and dresser a few weeks ago and realized only one book in those stacks would fall into a different genre.

The revelation saddened and inspired me.

That second pile is growing again thanks to the administrators and members of The Book Hangout Spot. Their passion for reading blew oxygen on my coals and reignited my own passion for all genres. Some of the members are authors and writers and book promotion is allowed, but, there seems to be an unspoken rule that we are united by reading in this particular group, not by writing. Readers do most of the promoting in this group, not authors.

So, to the members and administrators of The Book Hangout Spot, I want to say thank you.

Don’t read down.

“Don’t read down.”
Those were the words of best-selling novelist Elizabeth George during a panel at New England Crime Bake, a mystery writers conference I attended earlier this month in the Boston area.
Those were the words that set me free.
The moment I heard them, my muscles and my mind relaxed, releasing a tension I hadn’t known existed.
It didn’t take long to figure out why.
With my gradual immersion in the mystery/thriller genre over the past decade came a feeling of obligation, a need to read novels published by authors I’d met, or  novels beloved by other writers more successful than I in the business.
I wasn’t choosing for myself anymore.
I was letting obligation dictate my reading list while sneaking in a few fictional “treats” on the side.
While I discovered some wonderful works among that obligatory pile, I also wasted a lot of time pushing through pages that didn’t hold my attention.
Part of that disinterest might have been personal preference. Sometimes best-sellers just don’t click with me, despite all the five-star reviews. Other times, I recommend books that turn other people off. That happens.
But many of those novels were simply not that good.
I was reading down.
When I returned from Crime Bake, I looked over the books on our shelves that remain unread, books that I had scheduled for the months of December or January or February. Most of them I know nothing about. I bought them out of obligation.
So here’s my plan.
I’ll give each book a few chapters.
I did pay for them, after all.
But I’ll give myself permission to close the cover if they don’t keep my attention beyond that. I will no longer waste time reading down when the direction I want to travel in is up
Thank you, Elizabeth George.

Bye-bye Kindle Fire; Hello Kindle Paperlight: In search of a mentally healthier diet

I thought I was done with e-books, that for me, they were a passing fad.
My Kindle Fire often lost its charge due to lack of use. I found myself attracted to it only when I had writer’s block and, even then, I ignored the books I’d bought, seeking something more mindless. I played Angry Birds, determined to get three stars on each level.
Then, one day, one of our seven-year-olds burst into tears. His refurbished Kindle Fire has lost its ability to take a charge. He’d been playing Minecraft with his twin. I let him use mine, figuring I didn’t really need it.
And that got me thinking.
My sweet husband had bought me a Kindle nearly seven years ago, soon after they were first introduced. He wanted me to have something I could throw in my diaper bag and take anywhere when the twins were babies. I was starving for mental stimulation at the time. I devoured book after book.
The end came when he replaced my simple reader with a Kindle Fire.
Suddenly, I had all kinds of distractions at my fingertips. Yes, I could read, but I could also play games, check my email and surf the Web. Each time I picked it up, I had to make a decision and, when my brain was exhausted from writing, I chose mental junk food.
I chose Angry Birds.
I fully returned to physical books for reading, but I read only when I consciously made the time, when I knew it was safe to pull myself out of reality and let my mind drift in another universe. With four children and a traveling husband, I found it harder and harder to give myself permission. I read less and less.
My Kindle Fire, I realized, had become a bad habit, much like the handfuls of semi-sweet chocolate chip morsels I would grab from the pantry when I was tired. Angry Birds was junk food for my mind, the temporary boost that left me mentally malnourished.
What would happen, I thought, if I eliminated the temptation?
I took the plunge.
Without allowing myself time to think, I gave my Kindle Fire to my son and ordered the Kindle Paperlight, a lightweight version of the device that does nothing but allow owners to read. With it, I ordered a cover that turns the Kindle on instantly when it is opened.
From the moment I first held it in my hands, I was in love.
This devices calls me. With nothing else to do, it begs for an unread book, forcing me to buy a new one when the last one is complete. I can’t help but to comply. It reloads in an instant, and then sits there within reach, begging me to read that book, the only thing it has to offer, even as I sit at my laptop and write.
It’s a trick of the mind.
I know that.
But it’s gotten me reading again.
I’m floored by the time I wasted on other distractions. With the new Kindle, I worry less that I will become too immersed to read just a few pages at a time because it saves my place when I close the cover and reopens to the very same spot, shouting, “Read me! You have no choice!”
No finding my place when a bookmark slips out. No finding a bookmark when I want to stop. No waiting until bedtime to read because I don’t want to be bothered. And, most important, no “home” button that offers a plethora of other choices.
Simple.
I’ve read three full novels since I received it two weeks ago and I’m also reading a physical book that I keep on my treadmill. The balance between physical books and e-books is back as is the joy of escape.
Perhaps my battle with chocolate chip morsels inspired me. That habit was born with the twins, a product of exhaustion. A few weeks before I ordered the new Kindle, my sister Kathy persuaded me to add two ounces daily of eighty-six percent cocoa bars to help prevent cancer (She is on her third battle and determined to beat it.).
After just a week of healthier chocolate, I realized I hadn’t touched the morsels. The craving was gone. I ran out of dark chocolate two weeks ago, forgetting to replace it, but I still have no craving. Nor do I have a craving for Angry Birds.
I have a healthier body and a healthier mind.

Slump. Please help.

I am in a reading slump.
And it’s disappointing.
Until recently, I’d always had two or three books going at once. I kept one on my nightstand, one on the kitchen counter and one near the treadmill in the basement.
Now, only the nightstand holds a book and it’s gathering dust.
I just haven’t had time to pick it up.
Time.
Maybe that’s the problem.
I haven’t used the treadmill since summer.
I’m always on the defensive in the kitchen these days, trying to keep our very-independent twins from emptying the fridge, pretending to cook on the stove and pushing chairs up to cabinets to get the van keys out of my purse.
I never seem to sleep anymore.
I have too much to do.
But I love to read.
I crave a good novel.
I enjoy the escape.
This is a place where I cannot remain.
It is time to map a new course.
The trouble is that I don’t know where to begin.
Do I try to get more sleep, foregoing the measly hour a night I get to hang out with my husband, cuddle, watch silly sitcom reruns and talk uninterrupted?
Do I climb on the treadmill more often, ignoring the editing, writing, cleaning and cooking that tear me in other directions? And, oh yes, our four kids?
Do I remove all glass and hot sauces from the fridge, disconnect the gas from the stove and disable the horn button on my key chain so I can just set the twins loose in the kitchen while I read?
Or am I looking in the wrong direction entirely?
Is it the novels?
Is that the problem?
It seems that over the summer, the novels I picked up were impossible to put down. They pulled me out of my world with so much force that I couldn’t resist. Not even four kids, a messy house and a pile of unedited interviews could keep me in reality.
Nothing I’ve read lately has done that for me.
So, perhaps, it’s not the time constraints at all.
Maybe, what I really need is a good book.
Any suggestions?