The Five Most Influential Books When I was a Young Reader (that would work for today’s teens, too)

Guest Post
by
Mary Hastings Fox

Mary Fox

Do today’s teenagers still read books, or has social media replaced print completely? Studies show that, by college, most are reading because they must. When they do read for pleasure, they are more likely to prefer books where kids must fend for themselves or die (The Lord of the  Rings or The Hunger Games.)  I thought it might be fun to think back to my favorite young adult books to see how things have changed.

1. Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene ( Mildred A. Wirt)

A first favorite was Nancy Drew, and I stuck with her all through high school. Mildred Wirt, ghostwriter “Carolyn Keene” for 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books, was an independent, resourceful woman herself. She endowed Nancy and many of her other heroines with these same qualities. The message was that any girl could be anything, and this is part of what made her so beloved with young readers. But there was more. The relationship of distant fathers and their determined daughters can always fulfill a young girl’s fantasy about who she will be as a woman. While Nancy is loaded with brains and wit, she is often isolated in a dangerous world, and it’s often not clear that any help will come in time, if ever. In my mind, this is the reason why Nancy Drew is still wildly popular after 75 years – she knows that her choices can be wrong and that she doesn’t know everything she needs to. She is essentially on her own and still, she persists!

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The book’s protagonist, Scout Finch, is a precocious, pre-teen tomboy, trying to understand the nature of bigotry in the 1930’s South.  Her father Atticus is an impossibly good and wise man wise who holds her hand as layers of people’s manners and charm fall away to expose the moral core of bigotry and violence underneath.  There are many of the title’s “mockingbird” characters in this novel–gentle, innocent victims of bigotry and the evil nature of mankind. The real mockingbird is the myth of human goodness. The town is forced to see each other’s racism and stubborn beliefs about class and race.

This book is, ideally, read at a time of the reader’s own coming-of-age. It’s also a time in life when kids are beginning to understand the greater worlds of literature. Atticus is the anchor to integrity and morality that centers his children during violent storms that threaten everything they know. In short, he’s the perfect father.

The message of love and tolerance amidst social pressure is important, but the main hooks for the teen reader are the drama of the story, the author’s fluid prose, and her exquisite characters.

3. Nero Wolfe by Rex Stout

…was rarely read by the girls of my generation. The heroes are two men: Archie Goodwin–earthy, gutsy, gritty, and very masculine–the wise-cracking gumshoe detective and the foil of his boss, Nero Wolfe. Wolfe is an overweight, orchid-loving intellectual and a gourmand. He is also a recluse who hates to work, and who, book in hand, prefers never to move from his chair except for dinner. Most women in the series are merely decorative, as Wolfe, among his other shortcomings, is a misogynist who barely tolerates Archie’s womanizing. So why would a girl read this stuff? Why to fix them, of course. I was alternately Archie and Wolfe in the stories and, being far less lop-sided than they were, I was better than either of them at solving the murders, at understanding everyone’s motives, and at making my life work. What girl could resist?

4. Murder on The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Agatha’s most famous protagonist was Hercule Poirot, and he was my favorite. He constantly referred to his approach to solving mysteries as using his brain’s “little gray cells.” Christie was no slouch in this department. She was an exceptionally smart and gifted writer, deftly combining sharp structure with a psychological spin. Her novels streamed along with unique but believable dialogue, flawless mood-setting, and carefully constructed murder plots that to this day serve as blueprints for modern detective writers. She left a library of work that’s both intelligent and timeless. I can pick up one that I read decades ago, and it feels fresh and timeless. Murder and good writing—a combination that made the “Queen of Crime” one of the best writers in history–and on top of that, she managed it while staying G-rated. I’ve still never met a teenager who didn’t say they loved the book when closing the last page on Poirot.

 5.  Grendel  by John Gardner

This is one of my favorite coming-of-age novels, and, in my opinion, a masterpiece that should be read by anyone who enjoys reading fiction. The way Gardner takes a character that you thought you knew and adds layers upon layers of depth to it is absolutely astounding. This is a fantasy book but it’s not light reading for a teen-ager.

Grendel’s internal conflicts drive the story in one of the best character analyses I’ve ever read.  Grendel is not really a story about a monster, it’s the story of an isolated person trying to make sense of the world as a hated and tortured adolescent. While the hero (Beowulf) still wins in the end, Grendel, the monster, is the protagonist, and it’s his last thoughts that stay with us. “Grendel is dying and so may you all,” he says, which is, after all, is consistent with the nature of a dragon. (Sound like any teen-agers you know?)  At seventeen, I went off to college with a new understanding of the complexity and foreknowledge of what it might be like to be a human.

About Mary . . .

Mary Hastings Fox studied literature and poetry before becoming a psychologist. She is an associate professor of psychology and education at the University of Maryland and has had her own psychology practice for 30 years. In addition to writing other people’s true stories, she published a textbook and numerous journal articles on organizational psychology. Most of her writing is now is deeply rooted in nature. The Last Skipjack is her first novel, with a sequel in progress.

 

And a Note from Rhonda

You’ll find that the hyperlinks above lead you to online shopping at this essay’s featured independent bookstore, Scuppernong Books in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Scuppernong is as warm and welcoming as any bookstore you’ll find. It also features a community bar with hot coffee, cool wine, and craft beer. Check their website regularly for featured author readings (including mine!) and other events! #shopindie

 

Building an Author Platform

Guest Post by Eliot Parker

What is an author platform, and why is it necessary? An author platform is simply the ability to sell books because of who you are, as an author, and the ability to reach readers in a variety of ways.

Why does this matter for authors? The evolution of technology in publishing (through Amazon, Smashwords, and other online publishing platforms) has made it easier for authors to produce work and make it available to readers. However, that also means the publishing medium is more crowded than ever before, with thousands of writers hoping their works get noticed by readers.

In 2016, the Washington Post conducted a nationwide study of book publishing, accounting for all the various books published that year in all platforms and formats. The study found that over 600,000 titles had been produced that year. That means that over 600,000 books had been published in 2016 and were looking to attract readers and interest.

As publishing becomes more accessible to more authors, getting work noticed by readers is becoming more complicated. However, building an author platform is more than just finding readers and selling books. Building a complete author platform also means staying aware and abreast of opportunities for participation in writing workshops, conferences, book festivals, and other events directed towards the growth of the individual writer.

In terms of book sales, here are places many writers should consider:

  1. Gift shops at state parks – Almost every state park with lodging has a gift shop. This can be an excellent place to sell books, especially if you are a native of that state. Often, your book will be one of the few featured, giving it more visibility. Plus, most state parks buy books in large quantities.
  2. Creative arts “stores” – Often, these stories are distributors of items other than books made my local artisans. Some of the distributed items include signs, canned goods, crafts, and other homemade items. Do not be afraid to approach the manager/owner of the store and ask about selling books in the store. Often, the manager/owner has never been approached about selling books as part of their local items, and they are more receptive to the idea.
  3. Craft festivals and fairs – These can be excellent places to sell books. The vendor table fees can be substantial, but the potential to sell books is tremendous. Fairs and festivals feature plenty of people selling food, handmade items like wreaths and yard signs, but few of those events feature authors selling books. Readers attend those events as well, and they will be thrilled to see an author participating. A note of caution: often festivals occur for several days, and the days can be twelve-hours in length or more. Stamina is a requirement to participate in events such as this.

For development opportunities for the individual author, I recommend the following:

  1. Attend one large, national writing conference each year. This is a great way to network with other authors, attending readings, meet agents and publishers, and recharge the creative energy needed to write. Pick a different conference in a different part of the country each year, so you are free to explore more new places with the new friends you will make.
  2. Subscribe to BookBuzz. This website offers paid promotional services. Each month, they will send an email with many free opportunities to sell your works or free webinars and seminars available to authors that focus on the “business” aspects of writing and publishing.
  3. Subscribe to Authors Publish E-Magazine. This magazine comes to your inbox several times a month and features calls by publishers looking for new work as well as literary journals that are currently accepting submissions. The subscription is free and well-worth it.

There are other ways to build an author platform. Having an active social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) is important, but there are other ways as well. Building a platform takes time and consistent effort on the part of the writer. In fact, as a writer, I have a goal of completing two tasks each day that will help me build or enhance my platform. That goal is attainable and does not require copious amounts of time to be taken away from my writing or other tasks.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to talk more about building an author platform.

eliot Parker

Eliot Parker is the author of four novels, most recently A Knife’s Edge, which was an Honorable Mention in Thriller Writing at the London Book Festival, and is the sequel to the award-winning novel Fragile Brilliance. He is a recipient of the West Virginia Literary Merit Award, and Fragile Brilliance was a finalist for the Southern Book Prize in Thriller Writing. He recently received with the Thriller Writing Award by the National Association of Book Editors (NABE) for his novels. Eliot is the host of the podcast program Now, Appalachia, which profiles authors and publishers living and writing in the Appalachian region and is heard on the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network.

You may purchase Eliot’s award-winning books HERE.

Summer 2019 Reading List — Four Books You #MustRead

Books Summer 2019 (2)

Whether you spend your summer days reading on the beach, in a shaded hammock in the mountains, or curled up in your own climate-controlled living room, you won’t want to miss grabbing one–or all!–of these Summer 2019 #MustReads! There’s something in the list below for everyone!

NOVEL –
Valerie Nieman’s To the Bones  is a murder mystery, slash romance, slash ecocritical novel, slash ghost story, and it deftly blurs the lines between these seemingly unrelated genres with page-turning skill. Y’all, this novel kept me up late, and the ending caught me so off-guard I know you’ll never see it coming. With equal parts Celtic mythology and Appalachian folklore, the twists and turns will have you laughing, gasping, and second-guessing what you think you know until the very last page.

SHORT-STORY COLLECTION –
The Sound of Holding Your Breath 
is Natalie Sypolt’s debut collection, and wow! What a way to start a writing career! These stories are set in modern-day Appalachia, but no matter where you’re from, you’ll relate to each of the fourteen stories herein, because these characters deal with emotions you’ve felt or feel, they’ve faced challenges you’ve faced or are facing–or shoot!–one might even be you! These stories will test your courage and your mettle, and you may find yourself at the end of this stunning work asking yourself if you would have behaved in the same way these characters did, if you would have responded in the same manner in which they did, should you be faced with what they are facing.

MEMOIR –
Dawn Davies writes “A Memoir in Pieces,” Mothers of Sparta, and even if you think you’re not a fan of memoir, prepare yourself to be struck to the core by the gorgeous rawness of these stories. It’s rare for me to cry over a book, but this one turned me inside out. I giggled, I shook my head, and I truly wept over the course of these sixteen stories, each even more powerful because I know it is true, I know Davies bared her weakest, strongest, and most honest self to us in these pages. We see Davies navigate her nomadic childhood, marriage and divorce, pregnancy and postpartum depression, and the beautiful heartbreak of motherhood. With blade-sharp prose, Davies bisects and dissects her life for us, and in doing so, she lays bare a path that leads straight to the heart.

FORTHCOMING NOVEL –
Though you won’t be able to order Jon Sealy’s latest, The Edge of America, until September 11th, you’ll want to go ahead and pre-order today and keep it at the top of your to-be-read list. This action-packed political thriller is set in steamy 1980’s Miami, Florida, and man, is it hot! The CIA is keeping their eye on employee Bobby West, who when in need of easy money succumbs to a money-laundering deal with the devil himself–if the devil is named Alexander French. West’s obstinate teenage daughter skips town with French’s millions and a small-town Southern boy who is merely looking for his own shortcut to riches, neither realizing an Israeli hit woman has been hired by Cuban exiles to find French’s money and exterminate them both. You’ll hold your breath on this one through to the very last page.
NOTE: Be sure to look for my detailed review of Sealy’s novel forthcoming in South 85 Journal later this year!)

 

 

She Thinks I’m Fierce!

There’s nothing quite as satisfying to a writer as having your work published; that is, except having someone else mention your publication in their own work! This week I’ve been twice honored:

First, by Hospital Drive who pubbed my short story “Things Long Dead” (read it here).

two trees in the fog

Second, by award-winning poet Gabrielle Brant Freeman who interviewed me for her #FierceFriday feature on her website!

Cover art and design by Dawn Surrat

Thank you to the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Hospital Drive and to Gabrielle Brant Freeman for believing in me and supporting my work! You’re FIERCE!

 

 

Tiny Poetry at @Tiny_Text “Spirits Tasting”

It’s always a pleasure to have your work appreciated by and shared with others. It’s an honor when one of those others  is @Tiny_Text, who regularly Tweets some of the most powerful, concise, thoughtful poetry found on Twitter. If you aren’t following @Tiny_Text, you’re missing out! Go follow them now, and enjoy a little bite of literature in your day!

Thank you, Tiny Text,  for publishing my poem, “Spirits Tasting.” I appreciate your support!

 

@Tiny_Text is currently accepting submissions, so send in your best work! Here are their guidelines:

Teeny tiny Twitter fictions and memoirs. 140 characters or less. No other limits except quality. Submit to teeny.tiny.text@gmail.com.

Good luck!

 

How to Feast on Your Summer Reading List

Today is the day serious book nerds like you and I look forward to for days, weeks, even months: it’s the day summer reading begins! You probably have a tall stack (or, if you’re like me, stacks) of books that you’ve anticipated reading for far too long. Some of these books may be mindless entertainment; stories you won’t take too seriously, and ones you’ll probably forget a few weeks from now. Some may be literary fiction; stories that will cause introspection, play with your emotions, leave you forever remembering characters who touched you. Some may be nonfiction; memoir, how-to, or self-help texts that will teach you something new. If you’re lucky, one will be a poetry collection; poems to inspire your day, lift your spirit, and encourage new ways of seeing the unique in everyday moments.

The best way to devour your summer reading list is to relax, and get started. Begin your day with a cup of coffee and a couple of great poems. Once you’ve been sufficiently inspired, crack open a non-fiction text and learn something new about a topic that interests you. In the afternoon, visit the beach with umbrella drink in hand, or grab an iced tea and sit outside on your porch, and lose track of time with a riveting novel that will transport you to a different world. Then, for a bedtime snack, pull out a collection of short stories or a fine literary magazine. Short stories couch brief flashes of light, of insight, of understanding; they’re perfect morsels of fiction that can nourish dreams and visions during your sleeping hours.

Now, what should you read? Feast your eyes upon whatever stories interest you! There’s a smorgasbord of summer reading lists online, and most any supermarket-checkout magazine will include someone’s recommended list of summer must-reads. If you don’t already have a stack you’ve been waiting to devour, check out the reviews at NewPages.com, or search Goodreads.com for suggestions. Or, check out the titles (some new, some a few years older) on my personal summer reading list, below:

My Summer 2015 Reading List
My Summer 2015 Reading List

American Sycamore by Kathleen Nalley – Poetry collection – I’ve had the privilege of not only reading Kathleen’s poetry before, but of hearing her read it aloud at the Converse Low-Residency MFA Program in Spartanburg, SC. Kathleen’s writing is sharp, precise, and easy to understand, yet it never fails to leave me breathless with newfound revelations.  

Pasture Art by Marlin Barton – Short-story collection – Another collection of work by a friend whose Southern voice I hear in my head every time I read his stunning stories. This collection, set in Alabama, has been in my “save for dessert” stack. Why? Because I know from reading Barton’s prior work that this collection will indeed be a treat to be savored, full of stories I won’t want to rush through (even though they are brief), stories I’ll want to ponder and re-read, letting them melt into me, like ice cream on the tongue.

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron – Writing craft text – Every good writer must regularly read more about the craft of writing, but this text is touted as more than another how-to-write-well manual: it’s a blueprint of how the brain understands and processes stories, offering “cognitive secrets” and neuroscientific breakthroughs on how we respond to the stories we read (and write). Yes, this one should be worth biting into!

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane – Crime fiction– I’ve always loved to wolf down a riveting thriller, and when I first discovered Lehane’s work through his Gone, Baby, Gone series starring detectives Kenzie and Gennaro, I was hooked on his writing, as it’s the perfect blend of entertaining genre and literary fiction. Live by Night is the story of the rise and fall of a Prohibition-Era gangster, soon to be made into a major motion picture directed by Ben Affleck.

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates – Literary fiction – Yes, this “Oprah’s Book Club” bestselling novel was published in 1997, but it’s never too late to catch up on classic fiction that you missed the first time around. This family saga of heartbreak, healing, and hope has been recommended to me at least a dozen times, and this summer is the perfect time for me to sink my teeth into it.

Lost Mountain by Erik Reece – Environmental non-fiction – Another text that’s a few years old (2006), but one that I’m anxious to read. Reviews of this work collectively state that it’s more than a nature book, more than ecocriticism, more than a documentary; it’s evocative writing in truthful terms about a subject that is often buried, and when it is unearthed is sometimes pushed aside as mere righteous indignation. The unpalatable, radical destruction of Appalachia through mountaintop-removal mining is something every American needs to know more about, and this is the text I’ll be reading to further my education on this devastating reality.

Bellevue Literary Review, Vol. 15, No. 1 – Literary magazine – If you aren’t regularly reading literary magazines, you are really missing out. Not only is it the best way to be the first among your friends to discover great new writers, it’s the best way to support those new writers as they’re starting out. In addition, you’ll find smashingly good work by your personal favorites. Bellevue Literary Review, with its focus on short fiction, poetry, and nonfiction stories about medicine, nursing, philosophy, ethics, psychology, and sociology, has long been one of my favorite literary journals. These little literary bites are perfect for mental noshing while waiting for an appointment, lounging by the pool, or just before bedtime. I’m looking forward to whetting my story appetite on this quarter’s issue.

Now you know what I’ll be reading this summer. What are some of the titles on your summer reading list? Share them in the comments section below, and let’s exchange recommendations and reviews!

Six Things You Need to Know about Your Writer

writer girl

So your friend—or, God help you, your spouse—is a writer. Chances are, the more you get to know your writer, the more confused you’ll feel. Writers are odd ducks. We’re fun. We’re irritating. We’re enigmas and amoebas. How are you supposed to make sense of someone who flip-flops more than cheap rubber shower thongs? It’ll help you to know a few things about us that might make us a little easier to understand. Or not. No one says we are easy.

1. We are extroverted introverts. Writers realize the importance of socialization; in fact, we’re often pushed to network, self-promote, and mingle in order to make the necessary connections to publish our work, or sell it once it is published, so that we can publish again. We can juggle Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, all while texting and providing riotous dinner-party banter. Sometimes we are wildly gregarious, prone to spontaneous road trips or bar-hopping. We can be the life of the party, cracking witty jokes you can’t wait to tell your friends at the water cooler, and boogying to every song the band plays. Don’t count on our amusing behavior to last, however, because . . .

2. We are introverted extroverts.  You know that party we looked forward to all week? The one we chattered about incessantly, the one for which we bought a sparkly dress and fabulous shoes? We might arrive and sit quietly in a corner. Yes, last weekend we sang karaoke at midnight and break-danced as an encore, but this weekend we’re happy to play the wallflower, soaking up all that energy we expended the last time we were out. We’re having fun—don’t think we aren’t, even if we’re not smiling—because we’re watching, we’re processing, and we’re thinking. And it’s likely that something we see, hear, smell, feel, or taste will show up later in the story we’re writing.

3. We are usually right. Writers are sometimes perceived as know-it-alls. It isn’t that we believe we know everything, though we surely wish we did. We’re avid researchers, constant readers, and we’re always questioning how this works and why that doesn’t. We study the ingredients on cereal boxes. Our dictionaries actually wear out from overuse. Our Google search history could easily get us arrested. We’re smart, because we thirst for knowledge like a sponge in the Sahara Desert, and we’ll track down an expert for answers as doggedly as if he were the Aquafina man. When we offer unsolicited advice, consider it a gift (this is one we hope you’ll return!), because we give it in the spirit of helpfulness, not haughtiness.

4. But we are often wrong. And it breaks our hearts. It embarrasses us. Mortifies us. Many times, we know the answer, but our always-in-overdrive brains sometimes can’t shift gears quickly enough to turn a tight corner. So when you ask us the difference between a simile and a metaphor, and we answer incorrectly—though we’ve known the answer at a cellular level since third grade—it isn’t because we’re dumb. It’s because our minds are absorbing new information, or we are creating a new character in our minds, or writing a scene for a work in progress—or all of this is happening simultaneously in our heads while we’re attempting to answer your question. Besides, if we truly don’t know the answer, you can bet we’ll look it up.

5. We are not ignoring you. Yes, you’ve said our name three times, and when we finally respond, we ask you to repeat yourself twice. It’s sometimes difficult for us to come back to this planet when we are in a world of our own making. We are often visiting universes that we’ve created inside of our heads. We have to go there. Have you ever read a story and envisioned the scene as if it were playing out in front of you? That’s because a writer became so intensely involved in the creation of that setting that she pictured it in vivid detail—scents, sounds, surfaces, and more—so much so that she temporarily blocked out this world in order to create that one. It’s a necessary part of the job, and it’s what makes us good at what we do. It’s hard to hear you when we’re intently listening to the monologue or dialogue inside of our heads. Be patient. Repeat yourself. We’ll catch up to you.

6. Except when we’re ignoring you. Writing is a solitary profession driven by creativity that requires deep internal thought. The busyness and business of everyday life must be shut out both mentally and physically for us to work at peak capacity and get in touch with our highest creative selves. We’re okay with shutting the door—and locking it. We’re fine going all week without television, and we may equally be fine letting it play all day on the same unwatched channel. We don’t feel guilty letting your call go to voice mail. (In fact, when we’re writing, a ringing phone can be the equivalent of a pipe bomb exploding in our laps.) We can exist for days on coffee and candy corn or wine and Doritos. Don’t worry. We’ll come around soon enough, and we’ll again be ready to jabber until your ears wear out or spin you around the dance floor until your legs grow numb.

We know we’re different. We’re okay with that. And we hope with every breath that you’re okay with it, because we need you. When we come back to this earth, this country, this room, we want to find you there. After all, it’s you we’re writing for.

Tip for Writers:  Be sure to email the link to this article to your your friend or significant other, or print it out and strategically place it where they will see it. Then get back to writing!

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