My Goodreads Reading Challenge

I love me a good reading challenge. I raised my fabulous five surrounded by books and, so far as I can tell, I think it’s done them well. The youngest is a tender twenty years old and can figure out the letters they put into math and occasionally spouts the Greek at me across the kitchen, just to make me shiver.

The alphabet. Don’t underestimate it.

We’ve graduated from the good old days when kids had nothing better to do during the long lazy months of summer but chase chickens around the backyard, annoy ant hills with a magnifying glass, or walk with the fam two blocks south for a visit to the public library. The attraction had as much to do with the free air conditioning as it did with seeing how many borrowed books we could squeeze into our little red wagon.

Every summer, the library held a Reading Challenge for kids. And we knocked it out of the ballpark. The kids still have medals to prove it. Perhaps the idea of a reading competition feels as exciting as watching grass grow or—follow me here—a golf tournament. But as my third child would say, you are a bucket of wrong.

And there comes a time when a mom can no longer live vicariously through her children.

Have you seen my Goodreads Challenge page? It’s Fitbit for readers.

The idea is to set yourself the goal of reading “X” amount of books during the calendar year and then, as you finish each one, you post it to your list along with a review if you so choose. Not just for a summer…for an entire year!

Come here, Goodreads.

First, I had to throw a huge backlist together of my favorite books that I’d already read (possibly multiple times) and it keeps me up at night, knowing I’ve missed actual thousands of titles because I was too chicken to post the kid books. I’d love for you to think my reading list is classy and intellectual, but I love “Where the Wild Things Are” and Ezra Jack Keats and every single Nancy Drew ever written, even though Caroline Keene is a lie and our relationship has been strained at best, ever since she came clean.

After posting the backlist, I had to remember what I read last year and hurt myself trying. It’s mostly accurate. But a goal for this year? I took a step back and made the rational decision that a book a month felt healthy. I do have a full-time job writing, but after all, I’m also in a real live Book Club. If I read nothing else, I can post the dozen current books that these hip and happenin’ ladies put in my path. Right?

Sigh.

I’m supposed to be halfway through “A Million Steps” by Kurt Koontz. Instead, I’ve hidden under the covers at night and binge-read Sue Grafton. My secret goal for the Reading Challenge is to get all the way through her alphabet before the Book Club catches on to me and I get the boot.

This is how my kids got into trouble at school, reading fiction under their desk instead of their math book sitting on top. I suppose that explains my twenty-year-old, though.

I read “Migrations” by Charlotte McConaghy like a good girl, and it gutted me entirely. I don’t know if I can handle that level of emotional shipwreck every month. I mean, I’m already doing that with menopause.

Last week, I posted “F is for Fugitive” on Goodreads. I’m claiming every page. Kinsey Millhone is steady, predictable, and teaching me about my own craft. It annoyed me that she didn’t describe herself until page fourteen and then said her hair was “dark”. Dark? Like brunette? Black? Mahogany? Glints of red or blue in the direct sun? Sure, it’s good enough to use those details on the suspects, but we readers need foundational reference. If you don’t tell me, I will make it up, Kinsey!

But that’s not the kind of stuff you post on Goodreads. You have to say things like, “Delicate and fresh, very soft tannins with fruity aromas. A little vivid for my taste, but overall well balanced and smooth on the palate.”

Sigh.

I will keep my opinions to the blog and keep my enormous pile of TBR books in the little red wagon next to the bed.

It’s full of the alphabet, G through Y, with a couple of Kiplings, a secret Madeleine L’Engle, a Shel Silverstein side wall, a bottom layer of JK Rowling, a mix of CS Lewis and EB White, random Janet Evanovich numbers, and a flashlight.

What’s in your little red wagon?

Author Q&A, Blooper Reel

 

We fell apart so many times. I don’t know how Oprah is going to handle me on a stage. Or her backyard in Maui.

But practice we must, as I’m presenting my books in zoom Book Club meetings now.

Book Ends is a group of savvy readers in the St. Louis, Missouri area. This gorgeous group read The Great Loveda Brown and has invited me to speak at one of their monthly meetings. I’m fairly certain wine will be involved. And my cat is a non-negotiable. I can only hope we don’t dissolve into a fit of giggles.

Or maybe we will. If we aren’t having fun, why are we here? After Kid Five’s questions, I think I’m ready for just about anything you can throw at me. Including the camera. Use the comment box below and test it out. What’s a question you have for me? And while we’re at it, invite me to your Book Club this summer. Let’s talk poppycock.

Meanwhile, this video is blessedly short. This is not a coincidence. Enjoy.

Author Q&A, Round Six

 

This video short concludes our round of author interviews, held by Kid Five and thoughtfully dissected by yours truly. I had a hard time pretending only the two of us were going to watch it afterward. Thinking like that resulted in laughter and wisecracks and going wildly off-topic. The alternative was pretending that a million people were watching, and the idea made me want to run from the room in hysterics.

To find a calm middle ground, I quoted movie lines between filming.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

“The name’s Bond. James Bond.”

“I’m just gonna have fun with it.”

Tucson. 1916.

I guess you had to be there.

“You’re killing me Smalls.”

In this final episode, we chat about how I come up with the titles for my books, when I first considered myself to be a “professional” writer, writing male characters, and hitting an emotionally charged scene that took all my nerve to write. It might not be the one you think it is.

This video is around three and a half minutes. This is how long it takes to brew a perfect cup of tea. This is not a coincidence. Enjoy.

Author Q&A, Round Five

A desperate fit of giggles sabotaged this interview by Kid Five. We cut them off of both ends of the video clip and even so,  you can hear the clothes dryer beep at the end of our author interview, sealing our fate as forever amateur fireside chatterers.

We’re going to make some new ones up in Idyllwild, outside among the pines. After the weather turns. You know my feelings about snow.

Although, now that I consider it, it’s hard to have a fit of giggles when you’re about to freeze to death.

Probably.

In this episode, Kid Five asks me about what literary success looks like. Moms everywhere will relate to my answer. Have I ever Googled myself? What is the most difficult part of my artistic process? Do I believe in writer’s block? How much content did I have to edit out of The Great Loveda Brown before publishing it?

This video was supposed to be three and a half minutes. We settled for short, sweet, and to the point. Then we went to fold laundry. Enjoy.

Author Q&A, Round Four

 

Do you remember the moment you realized you could read? It’s an intense memory I have. I remember looking around, seeing words everywhere, and understanding that they were all trying to talk to me. I imagine it was something like the time Kid Five put on his first pair of glasses and looked around at the world.

“So,” he said. “This is what the place looks like. I’ve never seen individual leaves on a tree before.”

He was twelve. And possibly he’s never forgiven me for being such a clueless mother. He held this interview like a pop quiz and enjoyed it so much more than I did.

Fair.

In this episode, Kid Five and I discuss the time I first realized I wanted to be a writer, my “absolutely must have” item or ritual when I write, where I get ideas for books, and what new and interesting parts of history I’ve discovered during research. (Hint: those go into my newsletter!)

1912 is the year the Titanic went down, the “S” corset went out, and Boston’s Fenway Park went up. The first Eagle Scout earned his rank, Theodore Roosevelt passed the presidency to Woodrow Wilson, and Harriet Quimby was the first female pilot to fly over the English Channel. Life Savers candy was invented in 1912.

Have I always known that I was a writer? Is this a trick question?

This video is around three and a half minutes. This is how long it takes to brew a perfect cup of tea. Not a coincidence. Enjoy.

Author Q&A, Round Three

 

I wonder whether other author interviews are quite this eloquent. Sophisticated. Whether the author demands to breathe into a paper sack before-hand.

One fun fact about my series is that it evolved from a previous project, an unpublished manuscript titled Horizons. In it, I follow a branch of my family tree out of Texas and into the solitary mountains of New Mexico in 1888. Their struggle for survival and the years leading up to World War I were vivid, and the year 1912 rose to the top as an incredibly interesting time to live in America. I celebrated my fascination with historical fiction by writing an article for the NaNoWriMo blog.

My family tree has enough skeletons to populate several series. Facts that inspire fiction? In the words of the great Dave Barry, “You can’t make this stuff up.” Idyllwild has a tantalizing history just begging for someone to gild it.

In this episode, Kid Five and I chat about the research behind The Great Loveda Brown, how many hours a day I sit at my desk, which character in the book I relate to the most, and a childhood author that influenced me. Kid Five follows these with wanting to know whether my written characters have historically based people beneath them and asking what I would tell younger and aspiring writers at the beginning of their writing journey.

This video is around three and a half minutes. This is how long it takes to brew a perfect cup of tea. This is not a coincidence. Enjoy.

Author Q&A, Round Two

In today’s episode, we chat about online reviews, how I stare down a book before I begin writing it, keeping characters fresh in the series, and trying to decide whether Book One was harder to write than the rest and why or why not.

Questions that should have been asked, but weren’t, include:

Q: Mom, did you seriously put bad words in your books? Mom…(utterly aghast)
A: Yes. Beginning on page one. Three different ones in here. You can read them to yourself, silently. But you aren’t allowed to say them.

Q: But…
A: These are grown-up books.

Q: (muttering) I’m twenty years old, Mom.
A: Potatoes, Pu-tah-toes.

Q: Are there other things in there…that are strictly for grown-ups?
A: It’s the Wild West. Everybody has guns. There’s violence and murders because—follow me here—these are murder mysteries. Political correctness is just called ‘manners’, and good luck with that. They cuss when it’s called for. They will drink when they want because prohibition hasn’t been invented yet. And babies are made in the usual way because storks haven’t been invented yet. Maybe you should simmer down.

When Kid Five agreed to host my author interviews about my book, The Great Loveda Brown, he told me we had to set up in front of the fireplace.

“Fireside chats, Mom. It’s all the rage.”

“For presidents, maybe. Can I hold the cat in my lap?”

“You have to hold your book.” Eye roll. “Mom.”

If I ever have to do this in public, you’d better believe I’m bringing the cat for moral support. I will wear him around my neck like an airplane pillow.

This video is just over three and a half minutes. This is how long it takes to brew a perfect cup of tea. This is not a coincidence. Enjoy.

Author Q&A, Round One

 

Some day, I will hold readings in cozy San Diego bookstores and sign my books in front of Bubba’s Books up in gorgeous Idyllwild, California. Some day, I will land a book on Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club List, Hello Sunshine. Some day, I will interview and be interviewed with grace and clarity, and exude an innate sense of curiosity that skims the edge of wild enthusiasm.

But this is not that day.

If we are reduced to little chatting boxes for now, so be it. After all, I can fit an entire world into a little paper book. It’s no substitute for living in 3D, but it is a place to get you dreaming about “some day”.

It’s a start.

My dashingly handsome Kid Five held a series of interviews in our living room last week and the results wobble between, “Oh, I really wanted to talk about that!” to “How would I know?” He pulled questions from his phone and threw them at me then laughed as he watched me squirm in the hot seat, trying to explain things verbally that are so much easier to explain in Times New Roman.

In today’s episode, we chat about the book blurb, the book cover, and choosing three words to describe The Great Loveda Brown herself.

Each video is around three and a half minutes. This is how long it takes to brew a perfect cup of tea. This is not a coincidence. Enjoy.

The Top Five Blogs of 2020

As if you couldn’t evacuate 2020 fast enough, here are some parting stories to keep you company till midnight.

The five most popular posts of the year according to my website stats are:

Five: The Maelstrom. Appropriate word for 2020, little did we know in February.

Four: Seattle Shenanigans. This was our first and only trip for 2020 (sob), but we all made the most of it.

Three: Murder Mystery Mayhem. We all began the Loveda Brown series together, and it’s been quite a ride.

Two: Mother’s Day Hotline 2020. In appreciation of moms in the weeds. Ain’t no hood like motherhood.

One: The Bottomless Bookshelf. I love that readers keep coming back for recommendations! What was your fave read this year? Add it to the comments.

And now, because I just can’t help myself:

The 2020 Christmas Newsletter

When Covid broadsided us in March, my family members reacted each in his own way, but that didn’t stop us from doing things. Special things. Things we just didn’t see coming…like this watercolor by Kid 5.

Hubby bought groceries. He bought them until our cupboards exploded and I took his Costco card away. Then he bought blocks. Eighty-pound keystone wall-building blocks. He hid his credit card from me and he won’t stop bringing more home. Hubby is building the Great Pyramids on our hillside property with his bare hands. Obviously, he has a better chance at stopping gravity than stopping any of 2020s dumpster fires.

I picked up a sledgehammer and demolished the master bathroom. All of it. I ripped the flooring out and you can stare into the basement if you don’t mind the funny smell. I left nothing standing but the toilet, only you can’t get to it because the floor is gone. This is fine because, conveniently, there’s a toilet paper shortage. I ripped out the dry-rot—the nasty slime that no one could see, but I knew it was there—because there was a lot of it swirling in the global atmosphere that I couldn’t reach.

Some day, Hubby will stop building walls and build us a bathroom.

But this is not that day.

Kid Numero Uno, about to turn a whopping thirty years old, created a plethora of art for people. Art makes people happy. That’s a big deal in 2020. He lives in L.A. and has gone all adulty on me. He calls on the regular to make sure we’re all healthy, wears his mask, visits people outdoors six feet apart, and to really understand the level of his shocking behavior: he exchanged Christmas presents with us. This is unheard of and I’ve asked him repeatedly to take his temperature and read me the little numbers on the thermometer.

Senorita Dos Equis, on her way to becoming The Most Interesting Teacher in the World, went back to school for her master’s degree in Education: Learning & Technology. She also works in the local school district: “I don’t always zoom with kindergartners, but when I do, they take naps on camera and there’s not a thing I can do about it.” I can’t help feeling like this is some new level of Jumanji where juggling swords on a unicycle will be required. I hope she wins.

Tres Leches Mija ghosted on us. She lives less than a mile away, but the only proof she’s alive is when she sends me hilarious memes at two in the morning. Although her plans with her sidekick, Alastor the Wonder Dog, were curtailed (haha), the two managed to win ribbons (Best in Class for “Who’s a Good Boy?”) and are in training to join CARDA as a search and rescue team. He’s already snoofed up plenty of hotdogs and rescued cats from boredom, so glory is in their future.

Quatro Corazones split the year four ways: college, work, girlfriend, and a brand new car. He passed his classes. He was promoted into a full-time position at work. I’m not sure his girlfriend knows that the Toyota 4Runner is for camping and boys’ trips, but we’ll do coffee soon and talk. He had his blood drawn last week and texted me: “I blacked out. But got a cookie.” Me: “Never watch!” Him: “I didn’t, I just tilted my head for a second and I couldn’t see anything. Good news tho, I don’t do drugs.”

Me: “Whatever. Just try not to slurp up any Covid while you’re in there.”

Cinco de Mayo Mijo is currently the favorite kid because he stays home and feeds me. He rode the restaurant industry rollercoaster all year, and it taught him that food could be used to steal car keys from parents. “Mother dear, I see that you are typing sideways and about to fall onto the floor on your face. Could it be that you haven’t eaten in three days in your effort to MAKE MORE WORDS?” Then, he slips a grilled cheese sandwich with a tiny dill pickle nose and a ketchup smiley face on it in front of me and runs away with my car key. I don’t even care where he’s going. I lick ketchup from my fingers and keep typing.

These are great life skills. Why he insists on staying with college, I don’t know.

Covid-Kitty Furrybutt Smoochin’ Sugarloaf Whiskerboy is doing fine, thanks. He misses his life on the street and plays Ninja-paws in the back alley once in a while, to hone his tough guy persona. I carry my scars with pride. I want to go on record as saying, “When the animals in this family get more stocking stuffers than the actual kids, it must be 2020.”

We’re all leaning a little sideways, and that’s okay. I celebrate your own flavor of crazy this holiday season and lift a virtual cuppa with you as we farewell 2020.

It’s been one heck of a ride.