Reading Diversely: Reflecting on the Year

If anything seemed to characterize this year in reading, it was the ongoing discussion about the importance of reading more diversely, whatever that meant for you as an individual reader. The conversation touched on a number of points, but focused primarily on reading women authors, reading authors of color, and reading books where the characters themselves were more representative of the diverse population of the world. Reading diversely is especially important for writers, because of all the ways it provides you with a broader outlook, greater empathy and understanding, cultural insights, and more scope for your imagination.

Like many dedicated readers, I like to think I’m pretty broad in my choices of reading material, but I made a point of paying more attention to what I was reading this year, mostly because I had the nagging feeling I could do better. While I still have a couple of books in progress, and I may finish one or more of them before we ring in the new year tonight, I think we’re close enough that I can take a general look at the shape of my reading for 2014.

I’ve never tracked my reading choices beyond noting the title, author, and date I’ve finished reading the book, but it’s easy enough to run through the list of authors and determine how they fall in terms of gender and race. As has been the case the past few years, I read much less than I’d have liked this year, but certainly enough that I can share my percentages.

In terms of gender of authors, 55% of the titles were written by women, and 45% by men. These percentages include one book that had three authors, one female and two male, which was weighted accordingly. This is actually a more equal distribution than the last few years, when I read more books by women than men by a much larger margin, something I know is partly due to the fact that I read a fair amount of romance and young adult fiction for work reasons, and those genres seem to boast more women authors than male authors.

As for racial/cultural diversity, approximately 25% of the books I read were by authors of color (male and female), which isn’t a horrible percentage but is certainly smaller than I would like it to be. One of the two partly read books currently on the nightstand is by an author of color, but I have a bit more left than I’m likely to get through tonight. The upside is that it will be the first book finished in 2015 and thus get me off to a good start for next year’s reading goals. Reading more diversely has become part of my ongoing reading objectives, not simply something to think about for one year and trade for a new goal the next. I loved that my efforts to read a bigger variety of authors in 2014 led me to finally read James Baldwin, after years of meaning to pick up one of his books; to delve into Roxane Gay’s emotional novel An Untamed State; and to discover Zadie Smith’s wonderful essays.

Thinking about reading in 2015, I’m recommitting to my standard “read more books” goal, and also to reading more diversely. In addition, I’m going to try and get through more of the books I own rather than continuing to buy books that end up collecting dust for years before I get around to them. I’m considering a number of writing challenges that I’ve discovered around the bookish internet as a way to focus my personal reading efforts. Of course there are the standards, that involve setting a goal of a certain number of books read for the year, or reading books only by women or only by authors of color. However, there appear to be many more specific challenges, addressing every facet of reading you can imagine, from tackling more classics to reading regionally. I’ve linked to a few that sound intriguing below, and I’d love to hear about any others you might be giving a try.

So how was your year in reading? Did you have a specific goal in mind for 2014? Have you discovered any wonderful new reads simply because you opened yourself up to books outside your traditional comfort zone? What are you excited to read in the year ahead?

Reading Challenges for 2015

The Classics Club – Commit to reading at least 50 classics (of your choice) over a 5-year period.

2015 TBR Pile Challenge – Commit to reading 12 books that have been on your TBR pile for a year or more.

Reading England 2015 – Travel England by reading one book per county for as many as you choose to tackle.

The Pre-Printing Press Challenge – Read some serious oldies, such as Beowulf or History of the Peloponnesian War.

The Literary Movement Challenge – Read a book (or more) each month for that month’s assigned literary movement, such as Romanticism, Post-Modernism, etc.

Victorian Bingo Challenge – Read Victorian novels that fulfill a Bingo card of statements, one book per square.

Popsugar Reading Challenge 2015 – Read books to fulfill the 50 statements/categories on the challenge listing.

Happy Book Day!


Happy book release day to Nalini Singh, whose SHIELD OF WINTER is now available in mass market paperback. Those of you waiting patiently for the soft cover edition can scoop it up now online and at your favorite bookstore.

Assassin. Soldier. Arrow. That is who Vasic is, who he will always be. His soul drenched in blood, his conscience heavy with the weight of all he’s done, he exists in the shadows, far from the hope his people can almost touch—if only they do not first drown in the murderous insanity of a lethal contagion. To stop the wave of death, Vasic must complete the simplest and most difficult mission of his life. For if the Psy race is to survive, the empaths must wake….

Having rebuilt her life after medical “treatment” that violated her mind and sought to suffocate her abilities, Ivy should have run from the black-clad Arrow with eyes of winter frost. But Ivy Jane has never done what she should. Now, she’ll fight for her people, and for this Arrow who stands as her living shield, yet believes he is beyond redemption. But as the world turns to screaming crimson, even Ivy’s fierce will may not be enough to save Vasic from the cold darkness….

As an added bonus, the paperback includes some deleted scenes. Happy reading!



December Writing Challenge: Final Check-In

How goes it, challenge writers? Have you managed to write every day this month? Did you commit to a new, secret project? Are you pleased with what you’ve accomplished in December?

We have a few days left before month’s end, but whether or not you choose to write through the holiday, right to the bitter end, be sure to take a few moments to consider how the challenge has gone for you. Was it motivating to aim for writing at least a few minutes every day? Did you miss days? What was the reason? Did holiday obligations get in your way or did you find yourself needing a mental break?

Only you can decide if a daily writing habit is the best course for your writing style and your life, but I’m willing to bet even the attempt to write daily opened your mind up and allowed your creativity to flow a little bit more swiftly. And for those of you who didn’t manage to write as often as you wished, determining the why behind those less productive periods can help you figure out how to motivate yourself going forward.

Those of you in the secret-project category may or may not have a viable new work in progress, but even if you’ve been working on something purely for your own enjoyment, I hope you had a wonderful time and feel like your creativity has been pumped up and refreshed for a new year of writing. No matter where you are in your writing career, it’s always important to allow yourself some time to play occasionally. It keeps the prime pumped, and it also lets you remember why you love writing, especially on those days where the work feels more challenging.

I encourage all of you to keep writing daily if you can right into 2015. The more you write, the more you stretch your talent and exercise your creativity, the better the work you will produce. Happy writing!

On Holiday

I’m visiting my parents in Connecticut for Christmas, so I’ll be taking a few days off from posting. Expect the next update before the new year. Thank you so much for sharing your time with me here on the blog. Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season, and the very best of everything for 2015!


Review, Reflect, and Ramp Up


Just two weeks remain to 2014, which makes now an excellent time to pause and think about the year coming to an end. How was your year? Did you meet the goals you set for yourself? Are you pleased with your writing progress? Where did you exceed your plans and where did you fall short?

I’m not big on resolutions because all too often they seem like vague wishes for things with very little planning behind them. Oh, not always. People who want to lose weight know they should watch their intake and exercise. Writers who want to publish understand it’s important to finish a manuscript, revise, submit. But there’s often a disconnect between the daydream and the planning part of achieving those resolutions. It’s easy to lose track of the plan unless you actually determine what you will do, how your actions will change in order to make your ultimate goal come to pass.

So as I said, now is a great time to look back, just for a moment, to see what went well and what didn’t go so well in the last twelve months. And then think about why. What steps did you take that allowed you to meet your goals, and what distractions or problems cropped up that railroaded those you failed to achieve. What could you have done better? Understanding the hows and whys, your motivations behind your actions, will help you to set new goals for the year ahead, and also determine how best to approach them.

Keep the successes and the goofs in mind as you figure out where you go next.

A few tips for goal setting for 2015:

1. Set goals outside your comfort zone, that force you to reach. They should be achievable, but not so easy that they fail to challenge you or allow you to slack off because you can handle them in a rush at the end of the year.

2. Make sure you set goals that you really want to achieve, not just things you think you should do, or that sound good if someone asks about your resolutions. Tackle things that matter, because your emotional investment will serve to motivate you.

3. Break your goals down into measurable components and/or actions. What steps do you need to achieve to meet your goal? How much time will each step or action require? Schedule regular check-ins for yourself over the course of the year (or however long your goal will take) to make sure you’re on track.

4. Determine what’s at stake. What do you stand to gain if you meet your goal? What will you lose if you don’t? Know the value of your actions long term, because that will help you resist the temptation to procrastinate in the short term. Post the stakes somewhere you will see them often enough to keep your focus.

5. Try setting some shorter-term goals and some big picture goals. Having a few goals of the year that you can finish by March or May will bolster you over the course of the year, and encourage you as you work on the longer term projects.

No matter what stage you are at in your writing career, there are always new goals to set, new hurdles to tackle. A writer can always improve their craft, hone their story-telling skills, or master a new facet of self-promotion. Other goals can include publishing a short story, getting an agent, signing a book deal, hitting a certain mile-marker for sales figures. Or you might approach tasks that are more straightforward, such as redesigning an author site or starting a newsletter. Think about what you’ve been doing, then consider how you can improve upon it. Mix and match your goals to meet your current needs. Don’t beat yourself up over things that haven’t gone well; instead allow yourself to plan out a new strategy for the year to come, and get excited about putting it into action. Good luck!

December Writing Challenge: Check In #2

It’s the middle of the month, writers! How go your efforts to write every day? Are you managing to get in some time regardless of your schedule? Are the words continuing to accumulate between work and shopping and plotting festive dinners? Perhaps you find yourself sneaking the time. Jotting longhand in a notebook in the waiting room at the dentist, or waiting to pick up your kids from school.

No matter. The effort is what counts here. What I most want for you this month is to force your brain to show up at the party; make yourself write every day so that your mind understands what you expect of it. Ultimately, you may not be the type of writer who writes every single day once December is over, but you will see (and so will your subconscious or your muse or whatever you want to call that creative inner part of you) that writing is truly a habit, and your mind is a muscle, and training it all to work on command is a matter of repetition. If you only write when inspiration strikes, you’re not going to write on a regular basis, and while that can be a fun approach if you only write for your own enjoyment, it won’t get you far if you’re intent on writing for publication.

So keep at it! If you’ve missed a few days, don’t worry about it, just get right back in there and recommit to writing every day. Each morning, think of where your writing time will fit. Plan for it. Make it happen. If it’s important to you, it deserves a space in your schedule. And don’t feel you absolutely must work on the same project each day. I don’t recommend starting something new whenever you get a little stuck, but it can also be a good idea to have one or two back-burner projects that you can play with when your primary project gives you serious trouble. Just keep writing.

And for those of you working on secret projects, you keep writing, too! Play! Enjoy yourselves! Let your creative wings stretch a little wider, fly a little farther afield. Writing is hard work, but it should also be fun, so use your mystery project to remind yourself of all the things you love about your craft.

Get to it, writers! Wishing you a wonderful, productive week.

Reading Material for Writers


As promised, I’m back with further gift ideas for the writers in your life, with a focus on buying them things to read. You may, of course, choose to simply provide your special writer with an enormous gift card to the book retailer of your choice, and no doubt that will make them very happy. However, if you want to be a bit more specific and personal, here are a few recommendations to check out.

Certain writing-related books get named quite frequently. They are wonderful classics, and deserve to be mentioned, but you should also keep in mind that many writers already have dogeared copies of these babies. But for the sake of thoroughness, I’ll run through them:

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott — General writing advice mixed with personal history/anecdotes.

On Writing by Stephen King — Part memoir, part excellent writing advice.

Story by Robert McKee — On story structure, focusing primarily on screenwriting, but applicable to all fiction.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass — Advice on taking your writing to the next level.

These barely scrape the surface, of course, as books about writing seem almost as abundant as books in general some days. However, they are some of the most popular, and for good reason.

I also like to recommend the following writing-related books. Some are also well known, others less so, but I find they each offer good tips and inspiration.

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose — Thoughtful analysis on the reading process and how writers can learn from the works they read.

The Making of a Story by Alice LaPlante — A step-by-step guide focusing on short fiction, but applicable to all storytelling craft.

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks — Another way of looking at story structure.

The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer — A huge collection of writing exercises to help get the words flowing.

The Elements of Style Illustrated by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White — The classic style guide, updated with fun illustrations.

Beyond books, subscriptions make great gifts for writers. They’re the gift that keeps giving all year long, plus in some cases they help the writer get a fix on what a certain publication is looking for so that they can in turn submit their own efforts. Here’s an assortment of both informational and entertaining periodicals for the various writers on your shopping list.

The Writer — A magazine filled with advice, interviews, and other information pertaining to the writing life.

Poets & Writers — A bi-monthly magazine focused on more literary writing, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, with an excellent list of upcoming contest deadlines, grants, etc., and annual issues dealing with MFA programs, writers’ retreats, and so on.

Publishers Weekly — The industry magazine for publishing. Much more business oriented than writing oriented.

Top 50 Literary Magazines – One site’s list of top literary magazines with links to each one. An easy reference to some of the most popular magazines currently published.

Asimov’s Science Fiction — Magazine for short science fiction, reviews, etc.

Apex – A magazine for science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine — Publishes short crime and mystery fiction.

There are many, many additional publications available, especially if you are shopping for a reader open to digital subscriptions, as some online publications do not issue print copies. For writers who love their e-readers, another option is a subscription reading service such as Oyster or Scribd, which allows unlimited access to their library of books for a monthly charge. Be sure you know what type of e-reader the person has before making digital purchases, as some services are not compatible with older models.

Wishing you all happy shopping, and some great reading of your own!

Friday Links

Happy Friday! It’s a really wet day here in SoCal, complete with flash flood warnings and mud slides. The perfect day to stay in with a good book and/or a writing project. Of course, I have a rather limited supply of flashlights and candles, so I’m just going to charge up my iPad and hope the power hangs on.

In the meantime, however, I have Friday Links for you all! Some more good book recs, particularly for those of you looking for diverse reading material, plus the usual assortment of oddities. Whatever you have planned for your weekend, I wish you some good reading and writing time. Enjoy!

I Read 50 Books by People of Color This Year – One reader’s round up of a year in diverse reading.

Let’s Talk about Science Fiction Books by Women – Another good list, this time focusing on sf by female authors.

Elena Ferrante, Author of the Naples Novels, Stays Mysterious – Interview with the Italian author whose air of mystery has led to rampant speculation regarding her identity.

The Gothic Life and Times of Horace Walpole – Learn about the father of the gothic novel.

19 Short Story Competitions in 2015 – Start marking your calendars now with these contest deadlines for the upcoming year.

December Writing Challenge: Check In #1

We’re a week into December, which means those of you participating in my December Writing Challenge have seven days under your belts (or a few less if you started late). How goes it, writers? Have you managed to write daily? Are you feeling more committed to your craft? Is making yourself and your writing a priority more or less challenging than you anticipated? Or maybe you’re working on a secret project. Does it feel extra special knowing that it’s just for you for the time being? I think it’s fun to have a secret this time of year that has nothing to do with the holidays — something private and personal.

Of course, writing every day when you have a busy life clamoring for attention can be difficult. But the truth is, something will always pop up to distract you. Sometimes it’s the day job, sometimes family members or friends, and sometimes it’s a chore you’ve convinced yourself is more important than your own writing goals. But if you want to write, if you’re serious about making it your career, then you can’t let yourself be drawn into every distraction. Only you can decide if there’s a real need for your attention or intervention, or if it’s something that can slide (or get solved by someone else).

So today, at this one week mark of the challenge, I urge you to stay strong. You’re not being selfish to want to spend time working on your writing. You’ve committed to the craft and the craft requires regular practice if you want to succeed. Whether you have a deadline looming or are struggling with your very first project with no contract in sight, writing is important to you, and you deserve time to flex your writing muscles, even if you can only manage a half hour each day. So keep at it, stay committed, and happy writing!

Friday Links

TGIF! I hope you’ve all had a lovely week, and that at least some of you have embraced my December Writing Challenge and are getting words down every day, even if things are busy. Now’s a great time to look ahead to your weekend and determine when you’ll be able to fit in your writing time. Will you carve out an extra half hour before breakfast? Sneak in a mid-afternoon coffee/writing break? Be sure to allocate time ahead. Make it a priority. Your goals are just as important as everyone else’s holiday events.

Of course, today being Friday, I come bearing links. It’s a very bookish assortment this week, likely prompted by the start of the end-of-year best-book list season. These frustrate me sometimes due to their lack of diversity, by which I mean they typically focus on many of the same titles we’ve been hearing about all year. And while i don’t discount the quality of those works, I do wonder sometimes if it’s just a squeaky wheel situation. I suspect a lot of fabulous books just haven’t been mentioned enough for people to discover them. Still, I do sometimes stumble across new titles on the lists, or get reminded of things that I was curious about but somehow forgot in the jumble of new releases.

Whatever your weekend plans, I hope you have some quality reading and writing time on the calendar. Enjoy!

NPR’s Book Concierge: Our Guide to the Best Books of 2014 – A fun, interactive list that has something for everyone, including comics.

How Writers Read (vol. 2) – A continuation of the article I linked to last week.

Ursula K. LeGuin on Where Ideas Come From – Thoughtful look at the early phase of a writing project.

Plotting the Non-Plot-Driven Novel – Donald Maass on quieter reads.

A Reading List for the Month of Storytelling by the Fire – Reading suggestions compiled with a winter read in mind.