Wednesday, September 28, 2016

My Little Gardening Library

 

 
I love this quote, but if you know me there is one more important ingredient to give me everything I need. . . my dogs!
 
 
 
Years ago when I was more an antique dealer than I writer, I collected vintage gardening books and made a special place for them in my house. Tucked away in the back corner of my sitting room were built-in shelves I hated. Hated because I wanted an old cupboard where the shelves took up so much space. It didn't take me long to figure out the shelves were perfect to start a little library. I filled them with old gardening books, small treasures, and a few tiny oil paintings. It is a peaceful spot where I can hide out and dream about the past and future while surrounded by beauty. The books there range from late 1800's to mid century. While it is organized and I can label it 'my library', all the other books I collect and read are stacked all over the house. I haven't figured out what to call them yet.
 
 
 
The hated built-in book shelves now house my garden library.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A favorite Rose book
 
 
 
 
My collection of vintage and antique gardening books make a sweet library in my sitting room.
 
 
 
 
The antique dealer in me surfaces with small items added to the library shelves.
 
 
 
 
 
Some houses have formal libraries, some with books on shelves or piled high on tables, by the sofa, or bedside.  I can't imagine a house without books. It would not seem like a home to me. My guess is we all agree on that!
 
 
 
 


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Jane Austen Book Club



Ok. I admit I am smitten with this movie. It is on my all time list of favorites. Watching this movie is like visiting with old friends. Based on the novel with the same title, written by Karen Joy Fowler in 2005, the movie came out in 2007.
 
This is my book club fantasy come to life. Six Californians read the works of Austen, six books over six months, with each member leading the discussion of one of the books. They find the novels have plenty of insights that can be applied to contemporary friendships, marriages, sexual politics, money and class issues, social manners, self-control, second chances, and finding one's own place in the world. Their discussions are what you would imagine a book club discussion should be; intense, exciting, passionate. The characters are people you'd like to spend time with.
 
 
 
Characters 

 
Jocelyn (Emma): a breeder of Rhodesian Ridgebacks lives outside of town and her dogs are her family.  Jocelyn has been best friends with Sylvia since  childhood and introduced her to her husband, Daniel, when they were in high school. Now in her fifties, she has never married and has no children. She originally invites Grigg to the book club for Sylvia's sake, but ends up attracted to him herself.

 
Allegra (Sense and Sensibility): the young and impetuous 30-year-old daughter of Sylvia and her husband Daniel. Allegra is an artist and a thrill seeker who enjoys activities such as rock climbing and skydiving. Allegra is separated from her partner, Corinne, and lives with Sylvia.

 
Prudie (Mansfield Park) : a 28-year-old French teacher at a local high school. She is married to Dean, whom she loves, but feels distanced from, especially when one student in particular flirts with her.

 
Grigg (Northanger Abbey): an offbeat 40-something, and the only male member of the book club. Grigg grew up the only boy among his three older sisters. He met Jocelyn outside a science fiction convention as she came to attend a nearby dog breeding convention.

 
Bernadette (Pride and Prejudice): a talkative, 67-year-old yoga enthusiast. She has been married multiple times and is the most satisfied with her lifestyle.

 
Sylvia (Persuasion): Jocelyn's best friend, Sylvia is also in her fifties and is separating from her husband.


I love the idea of a small community of friends supporting each other through life's changes in the framework of a book club. The fact they are reading Austen to me is minor compared to the relationships that strengthen between the characters. A bit of romance also adds a nice touch. Each month they meet in a different place (a coffee shop, a member's home, at the beach) to discuss the month's selection. I've been in a few book clubs, and started one myself that is successfully moving forward, although I have put someone else in charge for the last few months, but have yet to find the perfect fit for me.

Has anyone else seen this movie or read the book? I'd love to know if you have the same infatuation with it as I do.


Thanks for reading. To return to the Fiction Writers Blog Hop on Julie Valerie's website click here:

http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-aug-2016/

 
 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover . . .


What makes you buy a book?


You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover. But the cover can certainly make you buy the book. At least for me, the cover is what draws me to a book in the first place. I am a visual person, my senses enhanced by what I see. My urge to spend money also ignited by something that is colorful, pretty, whimsical. I have bought books because of the cover, books I never planned to read, but loved the artwork.

     Perhaps it goes back to my career with the federal government. A great job, but for one that wanted to be surrounded by beauty, a government office is a dreary setting. I used to joke, “If only I could have a wicker chair and a hooked rug in my little nook.” I could keep books tucked around my desk, tiny pieces of art that made me smile as I went about my work.

     The words on the back cover play a huge role, too, on my purchasing the book. If the cover has pulled me in, made me hold the book in my hands, or enlarge the photo on my computer, I want to read what it is about. That small space where the author leaves a blurb is as important to me as an elevator pitch to an agent. Make me want to read you.  My attention span is short and you need to grab me.

      Recommendations by other authors? I don’t pay attention to them. It’s nice if you have a novel and a NY Times Best Seller Author has left a kind line on your jacket. It just tells me that person loved the book. But will I? An award-winning book? Perhaps that will get more attention from me.

     My own reading habits and book purchases are questionable at best. Loving  the art on the cover, instead of reading reviews, and buying the book versus  reading a great review and putting the book back on the shelf because I don't like the cover. I always go for the look I love best.
 
     Certain images that pull me in, make me want to see what the book has to offer, go along with my passions in life. As a gardener, antique dealer, dog hoarder, it should come as no surprise I can’t pass up a book with any related image to the above. If there are people on the cover, please don’t show me their faces, or much of their body parts. I like to form my own opinion of what the characters look like. If I don’t like the people pictured on the jacket, well, I won’t like the book. Just telling it as it is for me.
 
     The exception to my rule, memoirs. There, a photo is a must. My stalker self comes out. I want to see who I am reading about. An example below, A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas.  The cover hits many of my must-haves. A photo of the author and her dogs. And to contradict my earlier comment about blurbs by other authors, Stephen King says it is the best memoir he's ever read. Okay, I am inconsistent. But that cover, oh my.
 
 
 
 
 
 
I love the cover on The Language of Flowers. Bought the book in 2012,  and haven't read it yet. The image makes me smile and the book is placed where I can see it on my dresser.
 
 
 
Of course, I am crazy about all of Jackie Bouchard's book covers. What dog lover could pass by this cover without taking a peek at the book? And the back blurb, well, guess what the dog ate . . .

 
 
 
 
Then there is whimsy? Below are two covers that made me stop and look on Amazon.
 
Garden illustrations . . . A Sweet Cover
 
 
 
 
 
Not only does this cover make me smile, it makes me hungry. So I might buy the book and a cupcake.
 
 
 
So I read and loved Abigail Thomas' memoir, I own the Language of Flowers, and yes, I might buy the other two books based on the cover art.
 
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My memoir cover in 2010 drew some comments on The Book Designer site (link to site but not comments on my cover. That was some time ago.) No one liked that I had so much white in the cover (it did fade as a thumbnail and I had to frame it in black) and men did not understand the image of sunglasses being tossed, thinking I was getting rid of my husband's glasses. A friend, a professional designer, came up with the cover.  Since the essays are of hope, and the memoir a bit quirky, the pink and white seemed to convey more of the nature of my story. Does it draw a buyer in? I haven't a clue. But I hope it lets the reader know the book is more lighthearted in its approach.
 

 
 
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I wish I had a more intellectual way of choosing books. For me, my method works. How do you choose what you will read next? And what do you like on a book jacket?

 Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here: 

http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-july-2016
 
 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Old New York Bookshop: Treasured Memories


Early photo of Cliff Graubart at The Old New York Bookshop.
(Photo from The Old New York Bookshop Press)

This post is part of Julie Valerie's Fiction Writers Monthly Blog Hop. You can find the link to continue to other sites below.
 
     Quirky, independent bookshops are my favorite. Granted, I fall prey to Barnes & Noble as a great place to hang out on a dateless Saturday night. I can grab a quick snack, read my favorite magazines, and see what is trending on the bestseller list. However, my heart belongs to those small shops where the personality of the owner shines through. EagleEye in Decatur, a few miles from my house, is top on my current list. Tucked in a small strip mall, it is a splendid combination of used and new books, author signings, and other literary events. I met a date (one of those bad dates you meet online) there in 2009 to attend a screen writing class that was taking place. While the writers were mostly zombie fans, and I was in the middle of writing my widow memoir, it was a great fit, although I like to kid my story was the least gory of all.
     The best of the best, however, was The Old New York Bookshop, a haven to up and coming writers (who became famous Southern authors) in the 1970’s when I first moved to Atlanta. Close to where I worked, in the Midtown section of Atlanta, I stumbled upon it by a fortunate accident. Someone had lifted the wheels off my VW bug and I wandered around looking for a phone. I met the owner Cliff and fell in love with the shop, an old Victorian cottage, with lopsided corners and sagging floors. The many rooms, filled with floor to ceiling bookcases of used, vintage, and antiquarian books, rambled on like a maze.
     Cliff, a small, funny, Jewish fellow from New York, was (and is) as sarcastic as they come, but knew how to make you feel at home. Once I found the shop, I stopped by many times a month to visit on my way home from work. There was a rack of mugs for the regulars (yes, I had my own mug with my name on it) and a constant pot of dark black coffee brewing. I’d fill my cup, plop down on one of the comfy, broken-in sofas, and chat about my day. You never knew who would stop by and join in the conversation, but Cliff was entertainment on his own. (If you read this, Cliff, you know you were the funniest guy around and loved by all your friends.)
     The most memorable moments at the shop were the lavish book-signing parties Cliff gave for local authors who were just beginning their careers. Champagne flowed freely and laughter echoed late into the night. If the rooms became too crowded, there was always the front porch to sit and grab a breath of air and another glass of bubbly. To name drop, but I have to so you can see how fabulous these events were, I met the beloved Pat Conroy there along Terry Kay, Anne Rivers Siddons, Stuart Woods, and so many more of the local authors who became Southern legends over the years. The Old New York Bookshop was part of the literary history of Atlanta.
    Cliff still sells books, but mostly at shows and online. The renovated cottage now houses a trendy, upscale restaurant that fits the gentrified neighborhood. Read about the history of the shop in Cliff's own words on the Georgia Antiquarian Booksellers Association website.  Looking for books?  Check in with Cliff by clicking Contact info. 
     From bookshop owner, book seller, to author, in 2012 Mercer University published Cliff’s novel The Curious Vision Of Sammy Levitt And Other Stories. a humorous and touching tale of 1950s Washington Heights Jewish life.
    Visits to The Old New York Bookshop highlight some of my best memories from those early years in Atlanta. When I had a shop of my own in Old Town, Lilburn, Georgia, in 2011 (The Little Shop Of Arts and Antiques) I remembered those book signings of years ago and decided my antique shop should be a place for writers to hang out, mostly new authors that were self-published. For nine-months, we had a grand time with author events most every weekend. Then I moved the shop to the square in Lawrenceville, where we had more book signings and writing classes for another five months. Not a business person I ran out of money and closed the shop. Some day I hope to put those crazy times in a memoir, certainly not a how to book! 
     I pray there will always be book lovers who keep their shops open. Big name book stores  can produce the goods, but only small owner owned independent shops carry the heart and soul of readers.  

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Thanks for reading. To return to the Fiction Writers Blog Hop on Julie Valerie's website click below.   
 
    

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Fantasy to Fiction





I have a house fantasy. I call it The Cottage In My Mind. I even started a blog to write about my dream house and other houses that fascinated me. The blog was not so much to be entertaining, with its lovely photos and work in progress on my own house, a late 1040's rambling ranch, that is a great house, but no matter what I do, it is a ranch, but a way for me to exorcize the demon that entered my brain some years ago, whispering . . . move. . .

The cottage in my mind is a lovely Victorian beach house close to the water, or just a sweet Victorian cottage in a small town an hour or two from Atlanta, and these days, it is a farmhouse on several acres. I can't decide where I want to live and how I want to live. Do I want to be in the middle of all the activities in Decatur (my little town minutes from Atlanta) where development is booming, a Starbucks, Home Goods, and two small shop areas are being built as I type, or a small community where everyone knows your name (the town my version of the bar in Cheers).  Then there is the farm, a small farm with several acres, lots of out buildings, and a few hens and goats. Picture my six dogs in that scenario - not so much a good thing. They love chicken.

In the last two years I've had my house up for sale for thirty days each time. I had developers interested and a few offers that were hard to refuse, but my ongoing hip issues made it impossible for me to get my act together and move a house load of antiques, art, and dogs. So I took the house off the market before I said yes to someone.

I thought common sense prevailed, as I am having my second hip replacement on April 24th, but no, I went to a small town about two hours away and discovered a house I love. All the things I dream about and on one level and several acres of property. The house is dropped in the middle of the charming town on several acres, but not isolated from civilization. Should I? Could I? Would I? Maybe, after my surgery and rehab. I've talked to the realtor. But I am months away from doing anything. And when my hip is fully functioning,  maybe my brain will be, too, and the cottage in my mind will be just a lovely dream. Time will tell.

In the meantime, while I can't move, I can write. This past week I started writing a cozy mystery. Guess where it takes place? A fake town name and location, but the latest fantasy house is the setting for my new book. I am having the time of my life dreaming big of how I would live in such a town and solve a murder! Yes, I am the character in the book, disguised as a thin agile woman, but the six dogs may be a giveaway!

The last time I fell in love with a house that I could not buy, back in 2011, I penned my little sexy thriller, Danger In Her Words. The setting was the house close to Athens, Georgia I loved so dearly. Making it the scene of my book helped heal the wound I could not buy it. I fall in love deeply with houses but once I've had my way with them in my writing, well, I am on to the next one.

Luckily for my husband when he was alive I was not so fickle with our true love!  This latest house is my dream. No telling where that dream will take me. If I get a fun cozy mystery out of my latest passion I can't ask for anything more.

Unless, this is the one. Then it will be a different story.

Which makes me wonder, what fuels your passion for your stories' settings?

Note: Thanks for reading. This post is part of Julie Valerie's FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP. To return to the blog hop and find some great posts just  go to  http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-mar-2016

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My Multiples Syndrome


     How much is too much, and how little is too little? I am still getting my head around this question to put my love of things under control. I didn’t think about this so much until I started writing. I wanted a web page and a blog. One was not enough. Today I have six blogs that are public and several that are private. The same with web pages. Finally, I have consolidated to one website, but the others still wink at me on Google searches.
 
    My brain is always in hyper mode of things to do and I like to create something new for every idea. When I look back on my life, it seems to be a pattern. Six storage units full of antiques turned me into an antique dealer.
 
 
"Buy what you love you'll always find space in your home." I became an antique dealer when six storage units proved that quote wrong.
 
 
     The year after my husband died, I opened my own little shop, and in four months, I rented not one, but three buildings in a tiny hub that had no business traffic. I was ecstatic, however, that I had so many buildings so I could have writing classes, book signings for local authors, and still try to sell antiques. It didn’t take me long to learn the one thing I didn’t have too much of was money! My shop closed in nine months, although I hauled my treasures to a small town forty minutes away and rented space in three different antique malls.
 
     One dog led to six. To cover that insanity I named myself Writer With Dogs. Now no one calls me a crazy dog lady.
 
 
 
Said "Writer With Dogs" Never
 

 

     Was it time to get professional help, I wondered. My new doctor answered that one for me.


    “Here, take this card and go talk to him.” Her voice had a thick accent as she shoved a plain business card at me. “Your blood pressure is so high because you have too many dogs, too many shops, and heaven knows what else!”

 

     My blood pressure was high because I came to her right after I had been rear-ended in a car mishap (gently, and no one was hurt). I took the card and made the appointment. A few days later, I showed up at a tiny building with one window facing the parking lot. The forms I filled out asked about my drug use, prison time, and other personal issues I might want to discuss. What I wanted to discuss was how much I disliked my new doctor who thought I was crazy and sent me to him. I knew this visit would be limited to only one.
 
     An older looking man with a grey beard invited me into his office. He looked at the forms and then at me. "What is the problem?"

    I decided to cut to the chase. “You might say I have a multiple disorder. I am never satisfied with one.” I then went on to talk about my dogs, my shops, my antiques, my blogs . . . I did mention my husband who had died several years earlier. "He was six foot seven inches tall." I chuckled thinking of the man who made me want to settle down. “Thank goodness I only needed one husband.”

    “Perhaps because he was so tall, it seemed like more.” The shrink smiled back at me.

    I came away feeling exactly as I did before I walked through his office door. For me, creativity can't be contained. I see beauty in everything. I can't eat just one potato chip.
 
    I am kinder to myself now, realizing I will over do most everything when I am excited. I have learned that less is sometimes more, especially when it comes to writing. A tighter story is better than one that rambles aimlessly. One website is less confusing to your audience. Ah, but blogs, I am still blog crazy.
 
    For me there will never be too many dogs,  too many friends, too many books to read, or too many ideas that I want to write about.
 
 
To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here: 
 
 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

NOT The NY Times Best Seller Book Club

 
Death memoirs, farm memoirs, aging gracefully guides, and books with dogs on the covers. And I thought I could start a book club. It is beginning to come together!
 
As much as I love books, buy books, hoard books, I rarely finish reading one. My nightstand is full of books I plan to read . . . maybe, sooner or later. Maybe part of that problem is the fact I am not a big fiction reader. I like essays and stories about people who find their path after a sad event. How pleasant is that? One of my favorite books was A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas, her memoir on her husband's brain injury. Stephen King said it was his favorite memoir, according to the blurb on the book. Of course, the fact she had a three dog life and I had my six dog life, was a big draw, too. I read that book in the early days of loosing my husband. It made me read her earlier books and now her latest book What Comes Next and How To Like It. That lead me to reading books on having a wonderful life as I age.  I am excited to attend a class on Saturday by Claire Cook (author Must Love Dogs, etc) on reinventing yourself. Her book Never Too Late: Your Roadmap To Reinvention is on my Kindle.

What brought me to the books above is the dog connection. Would I have read these books if a dog had not drawn me in? None of my friends are reading books on how to be fun and older. Nor my weird memoirs. Maybe a cat on the cover would have worked for them. Me, always a sucker for dogs and always drawn into animals on the cover. (This might be a good time to make note of that for your next book cover to my author friends.)

To give you a handle on my quirky reading, I am also reading a memoir on a pig and on owning chickens. My farm fantasy is alive and well as my reading habits keep changing.

I started a book club last year with visions of finding books less known and publicized. My goal was to read local authors, self-published authors, and have authors visit our book club meetings. I called the group The NOT The New York Times Book Club. Perhaps I am not the best one to start a book club, but I like to try new things as I age! (my books on aging tell me this is a positive!)

Our first three selections were NY Times Best Seller Books. I drank wine at our meetings and stuffed my face with food, these were not the books I wanted to share. But I am not an ogre, so I let the members pick what they wanted to read. To set an example for all members, I didn't read the books they picked, noting that you could come to the meeting and feel comfortable even if you had not finished the month's selection. I like to be a positive role model.

In the midst of my looking for 'memoir' style books to enjoy, a friend bought me A Moveable Feast as a gift. All the research I did for my little picture book for my dog Miss April in Paris (A Dog Dreams of Paris) gave me the French connection. He thought I'd love the book. He was spot on.  So, at the last book club meeting, another NY Times best seller I had not read, everyone looked at me and asked, "So just what are you reading?" I had to hold back my giggle (I am not mature for my age) and smiled sweetly at them. "Hemingway." They looked at me strangely. "A Moveable Feast".  I went from dolt to intellectual with those few words. Loved it! Then we went back to discussing the book everyone had read and I had not.

Sometimes you need those moments. Enjoy them. They can make a good story, too.

I am happy to report the group is seeing things more my way! Next Sunday we have local authors sharing their books with our members. Four women, who write amazing books you might not find without knowing they are there, will talk with us and share their writing experiences. They call themselves The Book Widows (I swear I did not choose them for their name because I am a widow and so easily influenced by things I am familiar with). They refer to themselves as Book Widows, like golf widows. The men in their lives do not go to book clubs. I am friends with one of the authors and this is going to be fun.

Finally. I Will Have My Way!

There are so many awesome books that never get the recognition they deserve. Fiction, non-fiction, any genre is included in this statement.  The Book Widows have got me looking at fiction, too.  Especially if there is a dog on the cover!

Would love some suggestions on books you have found that may be hard to find if not on the NY Times Best Seller list.

Links to The Book Widows:  Please do not tell them I have not read their books!
But I have copies on my nightstand!

Valerie Joan Connors

Susan Clotfelter Jimison

Rona Simmons

Constance McKee


Susan, Constance, Rona, Valerie

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s Book Blog, click here: 
http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-jan-2016/