10 Favorite Books

These are books that inspire me, are thought-provoking, that entertain and entrance. In no particular order, my top 10 favorites that I’ve read in 2018 are:

Photo by Laura Kapfer

Photo by Laura Kapfer

  1. In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen: A World War II story in Britain and the death of a man whose parachute doesn’t open against the backdrop of the blitzes of London, war time deprivations, and evacuations.

  2. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans: The author’s return to a life of faith as an exvangelistic Christian.

  3. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: a World War I story about an aristocrat on house arrest in his hotel room, the politics of his time and the varied people he meets.

  4. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys: A World War II story of three young people—a young Polish woman, a Lithuanian nurse, a Konigsberg artist—fleeing as the Red Army marches through East Prussia.

  5. Perception by Terri Fleming: A story of the Bennett’s middle daughter, Mary, from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

  6. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson: A story of a young woman and the events that separated her from her four best childhood friends.

  7. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: An eccentric artist and her young daughter move into a respectable neighborhood and four children of an upstanding couple become friends with them.

  8. Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper: Written by a former Merriam-Webster associate editor, a wonderful peek behind the scenes about creating and updating the dictionary and the fascination of words in the English language.

  9. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill: Villagers sacrifice babies to a appease a witch who lives in the woods nearby. The witch accidentally feeds one baby from the magic of the moon.

  10. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones: A young girl, whose father is a bigamist, and the effect of living as a secret child on her life.

What are your top 10 favorite reads from 2018?

A Royal Spyness Mystery

I have inducted myself into the Cosy (British spelling) Mysteries. I couldn’t resist with Crowned and Dangerous: A Royal Spyness Mystery by Rhys Bowen.

As Louise Penny is quoted,

Brilliant...So much more than a murder mystery. It’s part love story, part social commentary, part fun and part downright terrifying. And completely riveting. I adore this book.

With a Welsh named author, a heroine named Georgie who’s 34th in line for the British Crown, and an Irish hero named Darcy, that’s all it took for this Anglophile reader! Set it in 1934 November and December (Did you know airplanes were called aeroplanes?) and I’m in.

What’s a woman to do, when the man she loves tells her they’re heading to Gretna Green (in other words—eloping) but they’re interrupted by a blizzard?

Then they read a newspaper article about his estranged father being accused of murder.

Darcy goes to his ancestral estates in Ireland alone, then tells Georgie during a phone call that the elopement is off. She does not take that mildly.

What is a Cozy Mystery?

Elizabeth Spann Craig, a North American author, is my go-to blogger about all things Cozy. She shares a list of what makes a cozy different from other mysteries: thrillers, military, police procedural, and hard-boiled detective.

  • amateur sleuth

  • a body before page 30

  • no gory details about the body

  • little to no use of profanity

  • create a puzzle with red herrings, distractions, and clues

  • close the door on romance subplots

  • write as a series

  • create a pun on the title

  • and, of course, humor

She also lists things to avoid in cozies: too many characters, too much “hook” (subplot that series is based on such as the royal connections in the Royal Spyness series), too much mystery (not enough subplots), too dark, and supporting characters who steal the show (and this can happen in any genre).

If you’re ready for a light and fun read, this is a great book. Rhys Bowen has written twelve books in this series. She has also written two other cosy series: ten Constable Evans Mysteries and seventeen Molly Murphy Mysteries. Bowen is also author of two World War II novels which I have checked out to read next.


Bubble Charts

In Paula Munier’s book Plot Perfect: Building Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene, she demonstrates how to use chart bubbles to create a symphony of subplots that build upon the main theme of a story.

Plot Perfect.jpg

My story, now in draft six, is told from the points-of-view of two women from a diverse family and the violence that happens against a member in their family.

My main theme focuses on communication or the lack of communication. How does conversation work among the family members when they are faced with a crisis, especially when they are shushed, and the family is splintered into different factions about that shushing.

Communication Subplots

What did my bubbles look like with communication at the center? It was a fun task as I thought of the relationships between my various characters:

Unfriendly Cheerful

Defame Certain

Superficial Applaud Inviting

Chatterbox Honest Transparent

Gossip Encouraged Positive

Blunt Soft Direct


Sideways Loud Tactful

Negative Repressed Quiet

Incomprehensible Dishonest Reserved

Tenebrous Critical Thoughtful

Cryptic Cherish

Ominous Cordial

Munier uses Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice as an example with Love at the center of her bubble chart. Munier then writes a summary of each bubble and how it is expressed in the plot and subplots of Austen’s novel.

[Austen’s] work illustrates how subplots and variations on theme can be used to help plot a compelling story.
— Paula Munier

Moving On

How did I do last week in the flash fiction contest sponsored on Janet Reid’s blog? It was a great contest with many fascinating, wondrous, amusing combination of stories.

Photo by AAron Lee Kuan Leng

Photo by AAron Lee Kuan Leng

My 100-word flash fiction story? Nary a mention.

So I thought about it and realized I had relied on a tired trope. How embarrassing. You’d think I’d have better sense after seriously working on my craft for the past five to six years.

How is your work in progress going?

I am about ready to have story printed up a second time and read through it as a reader. Then read through it again to take note of what needs changing. I want to check out professional editors.

types of professional editors

You will find this list on several craft of writing blogs but below is, author and blogger, Jami Gold’s definitions:

  • content/developmental editing (fix story and character level-issues)

  • line editing (fix scene and paragraph-level issues)

  • copy editing (fix sentence, word, and grammar-level issues)

If you follow the link, you’ll also notice that Jami created a master list for each of these three areas of edits. Yes, a DIY list!

I have done as much of the first two edit areas as I am capable of, with help from crit partners. Time to move on to the next step!

Writing Projects

How does a week pass so quickly? Between

  • frost warnings and bringing my over-wintering plants into the house for a night,

  • bringing out my fall and winter clothes,

  • calling for a carpenter as my chimney is leaking and my garage door lost a roller off a hinge (yes, first world problems), and

  • the rather horrifying national week of the sexual assault case (I believe her) against the aggressively-behaved Supreme Court nominee,

it’s no wonder the weekend slipped by and no post happened.

I tried to move forward on my story last week but then I took a break.

working a flash fiction contest

On Friday, literary agent Janet Reid (aka The Shark) put up the prompt words and rules for a flash fiction contest.


As I noodled around with the words, I became inspired! One writer, Steve Forti, always hides the prompt words within his story in such an amazing and natural way. He makes it look so effortless. Not!

The words for this past weekend were: fall, plummet, tip, slant, list.

Trying to become Fortiesque-like, I took on the word plummet and split it in two: plum and met. Numerous words begin with met. One word, metropolis, caught my eye. A plum metropolis? Hm. Then I saw how metropolis ends…with the letters: l, i, s. Which is the beginning of list. Aha! How Forticredible is that? I decided a character would use the phrase, “Plum metropolis that.”

Then I looked at the word tip. The immediate word that came to mind? Tipperary, a county in Ireland. I love writing about other geographical places where I have not lived (hm, I guess that might be part of my brand). So I googled Tipperary and found a travel article in The Telegraph about champion horses in Gold Vale and the city of Fethard.

These five words provided a fun way for me to fall into a story! Will I win any kind of recognition for my fun discoveries? Hopefully! Later today or tomorrow, I will find out.

House Projects

A week of vacation from work and it’s been rather intense on the home front.

I spent time at my sister’s new north Wisconsin lake cabin, a 3-hours drive one-way, to spend time together for two days. One day I picked up a couple of big walnut tree branches (we had a big wind the last week) and black walnuts while Mom finished working her church’s apple pie fundraiser (they made close to 1,000 in 3-days).

walnut branches.jpg

All those little black dots (some are still yellow-green) in the lawn and on the brick patio? Black walnuts. The black skins, which stain, are soft now and will peel off the hard-shelled walnut. One of my uncles, who’s retired, will take the time to remove the skin, crack the shells, and pick out the meat.

Then the past two days, my daughter and I have worked on house projects. Here’s the bathroom.


The first day she filled the wood grain (above), then yesterday we sanded and primed it white. Today we will paint the cabinets gray. I look forward to getting our bathroom and dining room (that’s where all the doors and drawers are) back in order.

bathroom cabinets-primed.jpg

And I pruned these two monster tomato plants. You can, perhaps, see that they have grown not only over my neighbor’s fence (for them to enjoy those sweet fruits!) but the nearest plant has also grown underneath the pink autumn joy sedum and into my lawn. The sedum has also been overtaken by my giant yellow pepper plant which I didn’t think I needed to cage. Good dirt around here!

Yesterday afternoon, we found out that our water system tested positive for e. coli. We bought a couple of gallons of water then will boil water for the next 5-days or until we’re given the all clear to drink water straight from the tap again.

This had happened where my church is a couple of weeks ago, upriver from us. It does make me wonder if there is something going on with the river water that is somehow affecting us. Something to research on when I have the time.

A Gentleman in Moscow

But in the midst of all this, I did have a chance to read A Gentleman in Moscow. Wonderful book. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing (though I occasionally tired of his tendency to write in triplets when describing) even though the story was a slow starter. I picked it up because Writer Unboxed’s facebook group used it as one of their studies of breakout novels.


I couldn’t get into the story before the book was due at the library and I had to put myself back on the waiting list a second time. I was not disappointed. For the ending, Towles ties together various bits of the Count’s life. It is character centered and, as a reviewer on Amazon wrote, I also wondered about the plot until we neared the end.

I’m also intrigued by the sympathetic portrayal of Josef Stalin. Perhaps that’s simply the Counts point of view? After all, he’s been under house arrest during the political purges and the war, so Stalin had no direct effect on the Count’s life.

Well…except for his confinement to the hotel. Count Alexander Rostov is a wonderful character and I fell in love with him. However, I’m also a Georgette Heyer fangirl too.

My Novel

And my own story? I feel very insecure about my plot again. So I’m using Janice Hardy’s points to summarize my protagonists’ goals and make sure there are no plot holes or logic holes or, heaven forbid, if I wasn’t tough enough on either of the women. Poor protagonists. Here we go…

The Forest, Not the Trees

On draft six of my story, I’m still stymied. I had been cutting excess words and adverbs, sorting dialogue tags, strengthening verbs, in other words, polishing rather than editing or revising.

After my query failed with my writing group (who very kindly asked what are the stakes, what’s the goal), I realized I need to refocus and broaden my attention. I’d lost sight of my story goal by enjoying each individual scene.

This week, handwriting in my story notebook, is my preferred way of sorting myself out as I search out blogs on creating goals and raising stakes.


Jami Gold, at Writers Helping Writers, has a good article—What Does it Mean to Raise the Stakes?—and Kristen Lamb does also in her article—Structure Matters: Building Great Stories to Endure the Ages.

Today’s Kill Zone blog also asked their commenters, many of them published, to share their writing process and I find that inspiring because there are differences. (It’s also deflating because some of the authors write fairly clean drafts that don’t require much polishing.)

Writing My Non-Fiction Book

My non-fiction book was relatively easy to write.

Inspired by my Pastoral Study Journey, I started writing some months after arriving back home from the Instituto de Estudios E Investigacion Intercultural (INESIN), in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico.

Those life-changing two weeks in Chiapas in August 2004 kickstarted my long-dormant writer. With the approach of Advent (Christian season of four weeks before Christmas), I began writing my first non-fiction that November.

I pulled together Scripture passages and pieces of contemporary readings from magazines and scholarly books, and for each subject, I reflected on these writings in non-academic language. Then I fussed with where each part went according to theme and sent it off to beta readers.

By March or April of 2005, I was done writing and submitted it to Wild Goose Publication in Scotland. They worked with me on getting permissions to use quotes, helped me edit a bit and it was published in October 2007.

I’ve done other writing since then, some published but now it’s 11-years since I’ve had a book published. Too long.

Encouragement and Inspiration

Most helpful for me today were the words of Jessica Faust from Book Ends Literary on her September 5 blog—Editing: the Toughest Job an Author has to do.

It’s in editing that the authors are separated from writers.”


“The hardest part about editing isn’t knowing where to add a comma, it’s knowing when the course of your journey has changed and it’s listening to your heart and what you want.”

Do I have some serious editing ahead of me? Yes. Perhaps I’ll even need to re-plot and rewrite it from scratch. (Yes, I will save my other drafts. No writing is wasted.)

Wish me well on the journey.

Discouraged Writer

It's a beautiful September morning. The sun shines brightly and I opened the windows even though the breeze is chilly enough that I'm keeping warm with a blanket on my lap as I write and sip my cup of tea. 

Though I want to be finished with my story, there's so much that cries for attention.

Work in the Kitchen

That Regatta Blue door?  It took four coats of primer to prevent the stain from peeking through. This is our second coat of blue paint.

Those ice cream buckets on the floor? Filled with bird food, conveniently placed so I could keep the feeder full. The last time I filled the bird feeder, I believe, was in June.


On the chair? Books and a couple articles of clothing to go to a friend when we meet later today and exchange bags of items we no longer want or need. 

The peach-colored soffit above the door? A couple years ago, my daughter stripped off the wall paper from the soffit and the whole kitchen but removing the adhesive has not been easy. Feeling discouraged, we decided to tackle the long wall (not in the picture) and the soffit above the stove and fridge. Progress as we painted them gray. Out of desperation, I asked my daughter if we could paint primer on top of the adhesive on the remaining walls. Um...no. 

Work in the Living Room


In my living room, I've piles on the chair, on the floor under the window, and to the right, around the barely seen coffee table, of things to do.  Some piles are simple tasks of putting the item back where it belongs or bagging it to get out of the house but some piles are more complex. 

Other tasks unseen in the photos are the bathroom cabinets to paint, the indoor window sills which need to be varnished, the sills between the indoor and storm windows in need of paint, and south facing windows that need caulk. I could continue ad nauseam but I'll stop. 

Work in Progress, Draft 6

My story, which I am revising and editing and polishing? (Yes, I probably should not be doing all three at once as each uses a different mindset.)  It's a slow-go. Part of me says, print it up, read it as a reader in a month or two. Another part of me says finish the polish work and get eyes on my query to see if it's ready to send. (Hm, get eyes on the query might be the best idea.) 

What I need to do is get a focus (and do something about that white screen door).


Summer's Lazy Days

Outside my window, where I write, I have this view. Rosemary, morning glory, and a red geranium (it's a one-legged straggler!) peeping from the corner.


I also have water available for the birds. The official blue water bath in the corner of the deck and then the black rectangle of water beside the morning glory box. 

This rectangle of water attracts sparrows. Is it something about it's shallowness compared to the bowl shape of the blue birdbath? 


You can see, in this photo, the drops of water from where several of them had had a refreshing bath before they took off when I invaded their domain! 

Hm? Yes. Back to the writing! 

What are your favorite summer lazy day images? 


Story Writing

If you are a new-ish writer, do you ever wonder when you will finish the dang book? 

I seriously started writing my women's fiction in December 2012. I had seven chapters from a story began way back in high school.  (Oh oh! Backstory? Let me make it short and, hopefully, interesting.) 

I came up with two new protagonists: a young millennial woman and her great-great Tante, a WWII East Prussian refugee. Both women deal with violence that intrudes into their sheltered lives. 

The Stats!

  • 2012: 7 chapters
  • 2013: 36 new chapters, 5 chapters eliminated, 11 chapters reassigned to a different place in the story or combined
  • 2014: 12 new chapters, 3 eliminated, 8 reassigned or combined
  • 2015: 5 new chapters, 7 eliminated, 6 reassigned or combined
  • 2016: take a break, read as a reader then take notes of changes to make 
  • 2017: 4 new chapters, 0 eliminated, 7 reassigned or combined
  • 2018 thus far: 2 new chapters, 1 eliminated, 3 reassigned or combined

What a goofy process, right? (You can also tell I like excel spread sheets.) I was not a plotter. I was flying by the seat of my pants with this story, learning craft along the way. In my next story, I want to be more plotter-like!     

the Forest or the Trees

By writing as a pantser, I kept refining and defining the story. One of the ways I gained focus was through writing a query letter. I could stand back and look at the whole of the forest rather than the individual trees. Janet Reid's Queryshark was my go-to study blog.  


I also studied the three-act structure, the important moments in each act, first page critiques, and various crafting issues (point-of-view, show-don't-tell, backstory, tension, pacing) through books and through blogs such as: Writer Unboxed, The Kill Zone, Fiction University, and Helping Writers become Authors.

I've also kept an eye on how many chapters each protagonist has as the main plot focuses on the millennialist. 

Obviously, I do not intend to rely on writing as a regular source of income.  Not with a 5 year writing process in place! Yikes.  

Are you writing a story? What is your writing process?