Archive | Novel Matters

What I Love About Book Clubs

Today’s post from Sharon Souza at our sister blog, Novel Matters | @NovelMatters

I started a book club about 3 years ago with my adult daughters and some of our friends. We get together once a month for a potluck dinner and discussion of our book of the month. While we enjoy our dinner and discussion, we enjoy just being together most of all.

But that aside, a benefit of our eclectic club that I especially enjoy is reading books I never would have chosen on my own. For example, two years ago my 34-year-old daughter came with the suggestion that we read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. At the time, I’d not heard of the book, and I wasn’t overly excited about reading it. But I kept that to myself, because I wanted everyone to help choose the books we read.

Well, let me tell you, I was completely immersed in the story from page one. I loved the author’s style and the fictional world she created, and loved the protag’s voice. But when I got to the end of the first chapter—which literally took my breath away—I was wholly invested in the story.

And so was every other woman (aged 34 to 70+) in our group. We read book one in the trilogy, then read book two the next month. Then we had to wait four months for book three to release. I’ve read the series twice more since then, and have grown to love it more with each reading.

When we learned Hollywood was making the movie—of course they were!—we spent much of our monthly discussion time “casting ” the film. We thought Robert Downey Jr. would make an excellent Haymitch, but Hollywood didn’t get the memo. No matter, Woody Harrelson won me from his first smarmy word. Naturally, we all went to see the movie as a group—along with all our husbands, who also read the trilogy at our recommendation. We also read The Help and saw that movie together as a group.

We’ve read contemporary novelists, English and American classics, and after reading Sea Wolf by Jack London, one of my all-time favorites, we planned an outing to the Jack London State Park in Glen Allen, in the California wine country, about two hours from where we live. Unfortunately it rained buckets that day so we cancelled, but we’ll get there eventually.

A few months after reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, one of the younger women suggested we read Mrs. De Winter by Susan Hill. While I enjoyed Rebecca, I would not have chosen to read Mrs. De Winter, but was pleasantly surprised by the story and the quality of the writing. Same with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which is a remarkable book.

Some books we’ve loved; others not so much. And we don’t always agree. We grade every one, and learn a lot about ourselves and each other in the process. We meet tonight, and will discuss the first third of And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer. We’re reading this one over the course of the summer because it’s such a lengthy book. I’m eager to find out what the others think about it. I’m not usually big on historical fiction, but I’m enjoying it a lot.

What about you? What book(s) have you read and enjoyed as a book club selection that you might not have read otherwise? And what fun things do you do as a group?

Sharon K. Souza is the author of Lying on Sunday and Every Good and Perfect Gift. Her newest release, Unraveled, will be available in July. Visit her website for more information

read more

Summer is for Writing too!

Today’s post by  Patti Hill  from our sister blog,  Novel Matters  |  @PattiHill

During my days as an elementary school teacher, I sent home lists of great reading choices for the summer and encouraged my students’ families to take part in the library summer reading program. Parents are very eager to help their children grow as readers.

They also want to be part of shaping their children as writers, but most parents don’t feel as confident about teaching writing skills. It might be helpful to think of yourself as a writing coach, rather than a teacher, giving your child opportunities to exercise the writing muscles they developed during the school year.

If you’re a parent or a grandparent with hopes of keeping your student’s writing skills sharp, here are some fun (and writing during the summer should be very, very fun) ways to do just that.

Keep it authentic!

Accidental learning is the best kind of learning. This is learning that happens while we are going about our lives, not sitting at a desk. Look for the ways adults use writing every day. We compile lists, leave messages, and plan a party or a vacation. Let your child do the writing.

This kind of learning requires parents to be ever vigilant for that teachable moment. One of my sons once complained about the cold water of the swimming pool where I forced (his word) him to take lessons. A complaint is a great opportunity to write a persuasive letter. While Geoff didn’t convince the Parks and Rec people to up the temperature, he did receive a letter back from the pool maintenance people about mass and bacteria growth. And funny thing, Geoff didn’t do much complaining after that. Bonus!

Digital photography is a boon for young writers. Let your children write captions for family photos, or photos of a special collection, or let them document a day in their life.   Journalism is definitely authentic writing. Compile a newsletter to send out to family members about notable summer activities with stories written by your children. Be sure to include an opinion page for some persuasive writing.

Journal Talk

This is my favorite way to add writing practice to a child’s day.  Write a message to your child in the journal and leave it under his or her pillow before you go to bed and encourage them to respond. Be sure to decide on a special delivery location to add intrigue. This is your chance to open an on-going conversation with your child about a book you’re both reading, about an event you attended together, or about how to make something go better in your family. Open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered yes or no) will keep the conversation lively. Share jokes, poems, family news. Don’t forget, your children love reading about your childhood memories, and ask them to tell you something they hope to remember forever.

Please, please, please don’t feel compelled to make corrections to your child’s writing. Instead, model in your response the correct way to spell a word or to use punctuation.

If one parent spends the day at work, have your children journal about their day to share with that parent. This is a great way to start dinner-table conversations. Be sure to include artifacts from the day, such as a feather, a picture, a flower.

Books and Writing

Most teachers use picture books to spark writing exercises. This works for parents, too, as long as you make the writing fun. Here are a few suggestions to tickle your creative writing bones:

If I Were You ” by Richard Hamilton: Daisy’s dad uses the expression “If I were you …” and a conversation about trading places ensues. Daisy dreams about being in charge, and her dad dreams about zero responsibilities.

Writing prompt: If you were me, what would your day be like?

Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School ” by Mark Teague:   Oh boy, Ike the dog is in big trouble. He has been sent to the Igor Brotweiler Canine Academy. He writes letters home to convince his owner to rescue him from his awful fate.

Writing prompt: Think of an animal who must convince his owner to do something. Consider an elephant who wants to leave the zoo to travel with the circus, or a goldfish who wants to see a baseball game, or a snake who wants a new pair of pants. Have fun!

If I Built a Car ” by Chris VanDusen: A young boy is determined to redesign the family station wagon. Of course, the car flies and goes underwater. It also comes with a robot driver, a snack bar, and a swimming pool.

Writing prompt: If you built a car, what would it be like?


Pets, pets, pets!

Kids love to write about their pets, especially if we give the pets unusual abilities or identities.

Writing prompts:

All of a sudden, your pet can talk. What does he say about being part of your family? What suggestions does he make for improved living conditions?

Oh my, your pet is really an alien. What will they report back to the home planet about life among earthlings?

Your pet is a travel agent for pets and their owners. Where does your pet send his clients? What kinds of special accommodations must he make for the owners, since the pets are sleeping in the motel rooms—on the beds?

Emergent writers need not be left out of the fun. Let them dictate their answers to you or an older sibling.

As you can see, writing is an interactive skill with lots of opportunities to share fun and to record your family’s history. I hope these few ideas will encourage you to keep your child’s writing skills sharp through the summer.

Please share your ideas for engaging kids in writing during the summer. Good coaches learn from one another.


Patti Hill is the author of five published novels—Like a Watered Garden, Always Green, In Every Flower, The Queen of Sleepy Eye, and Seeing Things. She just completed her first historical novel, Goodness & Mercy, set during World War II. Patti writes stories to restore a sense of wonder for her readers. She has served as sous chef to her husband, Dennis, a dedicated foodie, for 35 years. When not writing, she gardens, teaches, and mentors. Her grown sons are handsome and brilliant, of course! She has been a finalist in both the Christy Awards in the New Author category and for Best Book of the Year in “Foreword ” magazine.

read more

The Redemption of Time – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Many of you know that my husband has been hospitalized since December 1 with a vicious axonal variant of Guillain Barre Syndrome. Though much to build faith has come through this period of time, some things have been lost.

Tonight, for the first time in months, I held one of my grandbabies, little Even Tayne, in my arms and rocked her to sleep. I marveled at the fact that she went from seven months old, to nearly a year old, in a period of time that was lost to her and me, while I lived in an ICU, or stayed all day and into the nights at a long-term acute care hospital, or perched in a chair at a rehab hospital. All that time this little girl was not in my arms, she grew from the inchoate communications of a seven month old to the wise eyed and laughing sweetness many pounds heavier against the muscles of my chest and arms.

When I used to rock her older sister   Scottlyn Eyre  to sleep, I marveled at how such a strong and intelligent human being would yield so completely to me, relaxed and almost conspiratorial against me in the rhythms of the darkness, steam still rising from the hair on her just-bathed forehead, her breath that of graham crackers and apple juice and murmurs and sighs. I knew, every moment I knew as I rocked her, that I must treasure this time, that it would fly away with days and years.

As I write these words, I rescue those moments from loss. I snatch them back from the chasm of oblivion. I share with God the buying-back of what is gone forever; I partake with Him in the redemption of time itself.

If writing has no other purpose than this, if it has no other audience but the writer, it is one of the loveliest and most gracious gifts of God.

read more

The Keys to the Castle – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Our own Bonnie Grove wrote an inspiring post a few days ago on the value of daydreaming and its connection to imagination titled “Scribble on the Walls of Life. “   She encouraged us to play, to imagine and pretend.   Rejuvenating stuff for harried, stressful lives.

On a vacation last weekend, I was able to revisit a major source of imagination from my childhood — The Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City, Maryland.   Revisit isn’t exactly the word. We pulled off the highway and took photos at the castle entrance.   The park’s been closed since the 1980s when it became a retail shopping center.   Now Old King Cole directs shoppers to the Safeway instead of the quaint park that fired our dreams and imprinted our hearts with wonder.

The Enchanted Forest, built in 1955, was the first theme park in Maryland.  It had no mechanical rides or flashy special effects.   It offered a fairytale land with Peter Pumpkin Eater’s house, a rainbow slide, Alice’s Wonderland, the seven dwarves’ cottage and glittering cavern, the three pigs’ homes, Robin Hood’s barn, a gingerbread house…sigh.   When you crossed the threshold, you raced to leave reality behind.

My niece and I were only four years apart in age, and we would lie awake the night before our yearly visits planning the route we would follow and which souvenirs to buy.   I still treasure my souvenirs from the gift shop.   We didn’t care that some of the paint was flaking off the mache-like characters and the pond surrounding Mt. Vesuvius smelled faintly of chlorine.   Reality held no power there.   We had permission to escape to the land that shimmered with fairy dust.

Once we stuck our toes in the waters of enchantment, it was a short swim to full-length fiction.   Narnia, Middle Earth and Camelot unfolded their road maps.   We searched out secret openings in cupboards, kept our eyes peeled for hobbit footprints among the ferns and sharpened our makeshift swords.   When the stories ended, we remembered with fondness our time there and treasured the souvenirs we picked up along the way.

Imagination is an illusive thing that must be nurtured to grow. Writers know that it meets you at the same place at the same time each day, if properly trained.   If you miss a day or sleep in late, your characters will be lined up at the entrance, arms crossed, tapping their feet.   But they won’t wait for long.

read more

Scribble On The Walls Of Life – A Novel Matters Guest Post

I am mom to two children aged 11 and 9. Today, I was watching them play in the backyard with neighborhood friends. Wild imagination games so complex that when I asked them about them at dinner it took nearly an hour for them to explain what they had been doing. Do you remember the freedom of play, to become someone else, to transform the landscape (a backyard, living room, bed room, wherever) into a wild raging river, or jungle? Wasn’t it grand? When did we stop doing that?

Rather – why did we stop doing that?

As children we used our imaginations to create new worlds — tiny ones, small enough for Barbie and her friends to inhabit, huge ones where all our neighborhood friends could come and join in. As we imagined and created, we were learning — teaching ourselves the value of things like logical outcomes, fair play, justice, rules, inclusion. We were also fashioning our personal likes and dislikes, giving voice to our true hopes and dreams. We took reality and stretched it to it furthest limits and back again. We were having fun — but we were accomplishing so much more. We were learning how to live in the world by using our imaginations.

As adults, we would do well to remember the imagination of childhood.

One of my strengths is daydreaming. Yes, you read that right. I love to daydream. In my daydreams, I’m the star of my own show and nothing happens without my say so. I have lots of fun in my daydreams — but they are more than goofing off. In my daydreams I am working out problems, rehearsing for conversations I’m nervous about, practicing for radio interviews, working out how I feel about a certain topic or issue. I’m having a lovely time, but I’m getting in touch with my real self and exploring a sometimes difficult world from a safe place.

In daydreaming, I’m also giving full voice to my creative self. The controls of grown-up rules are less stridently applied. The world of “what if ” opens at my feet and I’m free to follow the rabbit trails without fear of “making a mistake ” or “getting it wrong. ” There is no wrong in the realm of imagination. There is only discovery.

Another strength I have is pretending. Pretending strengthens my faith too. Anyone who has written a novel can tell you, stories take faith. Writing without a net is the only way to go. Ray Bradbury said it perfectly when he admonished writers to “jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down. ”

That is the faith of imagination — knowing with all your heart that when you jump off the cliff, you will, at some point, begin to soar. When I am thinking about a story idea, I spend lots of time thinking about what could go wrong for my characters — what challenges they will face. I never bother to think about how I will get them out of trouble. Pretending has taught me that my characters will find their own way out.

The imagination is a wild place — filled with untamed ideas. But it is not childish. It is a place the storyteller feels at home. It is the place where anything can happen — and should. Let’s embrace our forgotten creativity of childhood and bring it into our lives today. Let’s dance in our underwear, sing a song we just made up, giggle at our thoughts, mentally rearrange our landscape, create places only we know how to get to. Let’s give ourselves full, unbridled permission to play, imagine, daydream, pretend, and scribble on the walls of life.

read more

Site by Author Media