Are you a book blogger, or do you enjoy reading blogs about books? (If you're reading The Book Case, we hope the answer is "yes"!) Then you have to check out Book Blogger Appreciation Week, which starts on Monday, September 13. (There are giveaways—including a prize from BookPage—guest posts and interviews galore! How fun does that sound?)
To get more information on this celebration of the book blogging community, we invited Amy Riley, BBAW's founder and a blogger at My Friend Amy, to tell us about the history of the week.
In 2008, I discovered the vibrant and lively community of book bloggers. For a lifetime reader, it felt a bit like a dream come true to discover a whole community of people who wanted to spend a significant chunk of their time reading books and talking about them. And I also discovered there were so many books I knew nothing about! Reading my new friends' thoughts on books encouraged me to try books I normally would have thought were outside of my reading taste.
Book Blogger Appreciation Week seeks to connect the existing book blogging community; introduce others to the idea of reading book blogs for book recommendations; and elevate the profiles of book bloggers.
Unfortunately not everyone felt the same way and I noticed some criticism of book blogs by the more established critical blogs. I couldn't understand how enthusiasm for books could ever be a bad thing or what sort of threat we posed by sharing our musings on the internet. And so I decided to turn my frustration with these criticisms into positive action, and Book Blogger Appreciation Week was born.
We are now entering our third year, and the book blogging landscape has changed a lot. New book blogs are popping up all of the time and more formalized relationships are developing among publishers and bookstores, but that's really only a segment of book bloggers. There is no one definition or set of rules for a book blogger; we are as varied as the many books we cover. The only real requirement is a love and enthusiasm for books.
Book Blogger Appreciation Week seeks to connect the existing book blogging community; introduce others to the idea of reading book blogs for book recommendations; and elevate the profiles of book bloggers. It's a sort of retreat for bloggers who work hard all year long and a chance for everyone else to come in and see what we're doing. There are awards, interviews, guest posts, giveaways and more. If you love books or if you're curious about book bloggers, you'll definitely want to check it out! We welcome you with open arms. Friends of books are friends of ours.
It's always a thrill to see one of our contributors publish works of their own. The most recent BookPage writer to add something to the bookshelves of the world is Michael Alec Rose, a Vanderbilt professor and composer whose collection of essays on music, Audible Signs, has just been published by Continuum. Below, Rose explains the inspiration behind his collection.
I wrote Audible Signs for anybody who loves music, for everybody who feels passionately that this love can be investigated but never fully explained, for all who seek (like me) new ways of conversing intelligently about music, new strategies to honor both its exceptional clarity of feeling and its irreducible mystery.
The impetus to compose these “Essays from a Musical Ground” goes back to 1991, when I launched a newsletter called Musings, my way of keeping in musical touch with far-flung friends, some of whom play an active role in Audible Signs (I couldn’t have written the book without them). Musings ran to a single issue: Marriage, commissions for new musical works, parenthood, all intervened. But that essay—Vol. 1, No. 1—haunted me down the years and led to further essays, some for my students at Vanderbilt University, others for concertgoers in Nashville who enjoy grand opera at least as much as the Grand Old Opry. The lone issue of Musings now serves its turn in Audible Signs: it has been revised, expanded and mounted as one piece of artillery in my fourfold assault (Chapter 4) on Alex Ross’ best-selling book on 20th-century music, The Rest Is Noise.
The co-mingling of “Hey Jude,” Beethoven’s Ninth, and Shakespeare’s Sonnet #8 (in Chapters 2 and 3) springs from ongoing conversations over the years with students in my Beethoven and the Beatles course. I started “ Letter to My Daughter” a few years ago, but it was only last winter—as I was finishing the book—that Regina Spektor came into view as an ally of Rembrandt. The other essays in Audible Signs—including one on Springsteen and Brahms as spiritual cohorts—are newly minted, struck with the hot iron of all the great music reverberating between its two covers.
A further word about my argument with Ross, for those readers who (I hope) will have fun reading Chapter 4. First things first: just as there is no need to have listened to the music I write about in Audible Signs before reading it, it’s not required to read Ross’ book before diving into my disputation with him. I could easily have written at length about the things I enjoy in The Rest Is Noise. Why, then, in Audible Signs have I lodged such a litany of grievances against a book I generally admire? What’s at stake here is a principle that drives everything in my book—an idea that motivates all my work, all the more so the music I compose:
We show our love for people and things by paying close attention to them, by putting them at the center of our imaginative regard and celebrating them in all their complexity. My goal in cataloguing the shortcomings of Ross’ The Rest Is Noise is to encourage both his readers and mine to love more richly the difficult musical repertory he and I are both tackling. Perhaps I have taken my notion of “tackling” a bit too far in my pugnacious attitude towards Ross. Therefore, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to say once again that I remain a faithful—i.e., disputatious—fan of Ross’ writings on music.
I hope you will enjoy Audible Signs in the same spirit!
You can find out more about Rose and Audible Signs on his website, where you can also listen to some of his music. Read all of Michael Rose's reviews for BookPage. Curious about The Rest Is Noise? Visit Alex Ross' website.
Just yesterday, BookPage contributor Stephenie Harrison interviewed Nicole Krauss for our October print edition. Steph enjoyed the conversation—and its subject, the forthcoming Great House—so much that we begged her to give us a preview in a guest blog post. She kindly agreed!
Great House by Nicole Krauss
W.W. Norton • $24.95 • October 12, 2010
This reviewer called "dibs" on a copy literally seconds after BookPage received news that galleys were heading their way (just ask my editor; she'll confirm it!), and I dug in with a vigor and single-mindedness that I’m sure made the rest of my teetering tower of TBR books envious.
Rather than a single story, Great House shares the tales of four individuals who are linked in a variety of ways, some subtle, some less so. Initially, a rather imposing desk which has held a prominent place in all of their lives—an ark for all their sublimated frustrations and desires—forms the point of intersection. Through a lens that shifts across time and space, readers will dip into the lives of writers, parents and lovers, slowly furrowing deep into their very cores, where universal fears and the crux of identity are laid bare, serving as the true foundation that unites this colorful cast of memorable characters. Of course, characters and plot are but one portion of any successful novel; perhaps Krauss' great genius is her ability to populate novels of ideas with such vivid people, all cloaked in the most exquisite language. Here one of the characters, reeling from the removal of the desk from her life, finds herself questioning her skills as a writer:
The next day I did not go out to look for a new desk, or the day after that. When I sat down to work, not only was I unable to muster the necessary concentration, but when I looked over the pages I’d already written I found them to be superfluous words lacking life and authenticity, with no compelling reason behind them. What I hoped had been the sophisticated artifice that the best fiction employs, now I saw was only a garden-variety artifice, artifice used to draw attention away from what is ultimately shallow rather than reveal the shattering depths below the surface of everything. What I thought was simpler, purer prose, more searing for being stripped of all distracting ornament, was actually a dull and lumbering mass, void of tension or energy, standing in opposition to nothing, toppling nothing, shouting nothing.
What are you reading today?
Nashville author Bente Gallagher has written three books in a "Do-It-Yourself" cozy mystery series for Berkley under the name Jennie Bentley. This month, she hits bookstore shelves for the first time under her own name with A Cutthroat Business, a book set in Music City that stars Southern Belle realtor Savannah Martin.
So-and-so in this case is your character. Your main one, assuming you have one. Not everyone does. Some people write ensemble books, with whole casts of characters, all in the third person. Others, like me, spend all our time in one character’s head, and write as if we are that character. Given that, it’s not surprising that people wonder how much I have in common with my characters.
Yes, characters, because now I have two series going simultaneously, and two characters in whose heads I spend most of my time. There’s the Do-It-Yourself home renovation mysteries I write for Berkley Prime Crime, under the pseudonym Jennie Bentley, and the brand new A Cutthroat Business, first in the Savannah Martin Southern real estate series, written as myself.
And to answer the question: I’m a little like both of them, but not too much like either. They’re not that much like each other, if it comes to that. Oh sure, they’ve both got their insecurities and their little neurotic quirks—as does their creator—but they’re two very different people from two totally different backgrounds, and if they have traits in common, they’ve gotten them from different experiences.
Avery Baker, the protagonist in the Do-It-Yourself series, is a New Yorker born and bred. A sassy city girl and hip textile designer, she’s used to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, so she feels very much like a fish out of water when she moves to tiny Waterfield on the craggy coast of Maine to renovate houses with her new boyfriend, hunky handyman Derek Ellis.
Savannah Martin, on the other hand, the main character in A Cutthroat Business, is a gentle-bred Southern Belle from a small town in Middle Tennessee. She’s sweet and ladylike, quite traditional, not to mention hyper-aware of having to say and do the right thing at all times.
All her life, Savannah has done what was expected of her, from going to finishing school in Charleston and coming out at the Christmas cotillion, to attending the university where her mother and father went and marrying the man her mother approves. Through it all, she fully expects that by doing everything right, life in turn will be perfect.
That is, until she learns that her perfect husband is no such thing, but instead is lying, cheating scum. At which point Savannah divorces his posterior and strikes out on her own for the first time ever. Instead of scurrying home to her family’s antebellum mansion in tiny—and fictitious—Sweetwater, to lick her wounds and wait for her mother to arrange another marriage with another suitable Southern gentleman, she stays in Nashville and begins to carve out a life for herself. For the first time, there’s no one looking over her shoulder and no one passing judgment on her actions. She gets a real estate license—in spite of her mother’s assertion that real estate is a cutthroat business, unfit for a lady—and starts to develop the kind of life she, Savannah, wants.
Into this mix falls the dead body of a competing realtor—chubby throat cut from ear to ear—as well as the last man on earth Margaret Anne Martin, Savannah’s sainted mother, would want her daughter to get involved with. Rafe Collier is the black sheep of Sweetwater, the boy Savannah’s mother, and every other mother in town, warned their teenage daughters about. Six feet three inches of testosterone and trouble, with a murky past and an uncertain future—not to mention a Harley-Davidson and enough sex-appeal for two men—he’s not the kind of guy a sweet Southern girl should want to tangle with, in any sense of the word.
Of course he’s also damn near irresistible.
So now Savannah has to figure out who killed real estate queen Brenda Puckett, and avoid getting killed—or kissed—by Rafe, all while trying to make a success of her new career before the money in her savings account runs out and she has to go back to selling make-up at the mall. And oh yeah, she has to do it while keeping the whole thing from her family, who would have collective fits if they knew what was going on...
So that’s Savannah. As for me, the author? Well, I’m neither a Southern Belle nor a hip New Yorker, although I’ve lived in both places. I’m not sassy and I’m not blonde, and I haven’t been single for quite a few years. I’ve never had a cheating boyfriend or husband, and I’ve never tangled with anyone I shouldn’t, in any sense of the word. I’ve also never stumbled over dead bodies or buried treasure or anything else that I write about. But that’s the beauty of writing, isn’t it? And of reading, for that matter. You get to be whoever you want for a while, whether you have anything in common with that character or not. And that’s a beautiful thing.
A Cutthroat Business went on sale June 29. Find out more about Bente Gallagher and her alter ego, Jennie Bentley, on their website.
As a former fiction editor, author Harriet Evans knows what makes for a compelling story. After a more than a decade of publishing women's fiction at Penguin UK and Headline, Evans left the industry to become a full-time writer. She has now published four books, the most recent of which is I Remember You.
In a post exclusive to The Book Case, Evans shares her all-time favorite vacation reads.
Perhaps you’re like me and reserve a lot of your reading for the summer holidays, when you can freely indulge in a pageturner, get sucked into it and devour it in a way you can’t the rest of the year. I was a very moody teenager who didn’t much like summer holidays with my parents and sister but was too pathetic to go off and do something exciting by myself, either. (How nice she sounds, I hear you cry). So all summer long I’d read instead (or write terrible poems, but don’t worry, I’m not going to inflict any of them on you), and that has stayed with me ever since. I’m quite particular about a summer read. I want something not too heavy, but it can’t be totally brainless, either. Here are a few books and authors I’ve enjoyed on my summer holidays over the years, which I remember as part of the holiday as much as the ouzo in Crete, or the spaghetti in Florence…
Have a great summer.
Harriet Evans is the internationally bestselling author of I Remember You and three previous novels, Going Home, A Hopeless Romantic and The Love of Her Life. Find out more about Harriet at harriet-evans.com. Do you have a favorite summer reading selection? Tell us in the comments!
In How to Booze: Exquisite Cocktails and Unsound Advice (Harper), authors Jordan Kaye and Marshall Altier pair classic cocktails with every imaginable social situation. We challenged them to come up with four drink suggestions for the July 4 holiday, and they more than met our expectations. If you want to add some flair to your Independence Day celebration, read on!
The government wants you to spend Independence Day buying cars. Your neighbor wants you to slather on face paint, buy half a ton of Lipton’s tea bags and protest on the White House lawn—or at least on the lawn of that socialist who lives down the street and won’t stop babbling about the World Cup. But deep down, you know that there’s only one way to honor the day, and it’s how the Founding Fathers would want you to do it, too: fire up the grill, throw on the steaks and—oh, yes!—shake up a nice, cold cocktail.
Of course, beer is also a fitting choice, but it will surprise your neighbor to learn that while beer comes from Europe (that sorry, suffering land of universal healthcare and trains that go too darn fast), nothing is more American than the cocktail. The cocktail, like freedom itself, was born here. Even better, there happen to be a few cocktails absolutely perfect to enjoy with barbecue. So here are four July 4 choices, for four different locales:
#1, Urban Dweller
If you aren’t going anywhere for the weekend, there is no better place to watch the fireworks than from your own roof. Just hope the landlord doesn’t notice you trying to squeeze the Weber into the elevator, and make sure your kids (if you have them) are shackled to the chimney pipe. Here’s a drink made from the official spirit of the American Revolution. The economies of the rum trade were part of the formula that led to rebellion and, when the party ended, George Washington ordered a barrel of Barbados prime for his inauguration.
2 oz aged rum
½ oz strained lime juice
¾ ginger beer
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake rum, lime juice and bitters without ice, pour over fresh ice into collins glass and top up with ginger beer. Garnish with a wedge of lime
½ oz unsweetened pineapple juice
½ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz orange juice
1½ oz Bourbon
½ tsp grenadine
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.
1 bottle Brut champagne
1½ oz Cognac
1½ oz Cointreau
1 bottle club soda
Rind of 1 orange(s)
Slices of pineapple(s)
Slices of orange(s)
Mix in a punch bowl. Garnish lavishly by placing orange and pineapple slices into the mix and placing sprigs of mint into each individual serving glass
2 oz Irish Whiskey
1 oz strained lime juice
½ oz simple syrup
3 slices of cucumber, muddled in mixing tin
8-10 leaves of lightly bruised mint
Shake with ice, double strain (to remove mint and cucumber bits) into old-fashioned glass over fresh ice
Garnish with a fresh mint sprig and cucumber slices.
Returning to fiction is like sitting down and having stiff drinks or strong coffee with old friends you’ve not seen in years. You miss them deeply, and are so happy to see them, and you can’t believe it’s been so long since you’ve all gotten together. I wrote my first novel, The Joy of Funerals, in 2003. This month, HarperCollins releases my new novel, Based Upon Availability. In between that time and now, I penned two nonfiction books, and so I’ve been looking forward to getting back to a place where one doesn’t need to fact-check, and I can just create the people and situations.
I’m so fascinated by human behavior and the strange, odd and outrageous things people do. And I wanted a place where all of my characters passed by each other, even bleed into each others lives that was very self contained. Based Upon Availability, centers on eight women who pass through the doors of Manhattan's signature, ultra swanky Four Seasons Hotel—either for an hour, for several days, or number of weeks—offering sanctuary to some, solace to others, and even despair. Here, they grapple with family, sex, power, love and death as they explore the basic need for human connection while seeking to understand themselves better.
Truth be told, I have a love affair with hotels, and I secretly long to live in one.
Hotels are sexy and offer a strange kind of mystery, a retreat from real life. I love the idea that you can be anyone from anywhere and that once you've check out, the rooms are stripped down, wiped clean and all traces of you are erased, as if you'd never been there. That was an intriguing concept to play with. I wanted to ask and answer the age-old question; ‘what happens behind closed doors’ while examining the walls we put up as we attempt intimacy, and inspecting the ruins when they’re knocked down.
As a travel writer, I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels—some amazing, some, sadly, not so much—and so for Based Upon Availability , I really wanted to bring some of that experience to the page. I wanted the reader to really get a feel for the inner workings of a property while showing the gritty, sometimes dirty, reality of daily life. I spent a lot of time sitting in the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel and stayed in one of the suites. I pretended to be one of the characters—Unlimited Lou, the aging rock star who’s in dire need of detoxing….in fact, she’s brought to the hotel by her publicist to dry out, having failed at the rehab centers. To give it an authentic touch I dangled an unlit cigarette from my lips, slapped on some removable tattoos, brought a bottle of vodka with me—have you seen the prices for a mini bottle of booze?—and played a lot of rock songs I thought the character would like or have written herself. Of course I remained sober for the experience—though I did walk around naked, as the character does, but of course, this may be far more info than anyone wanted to know. . . . Oh, the need to be honest.
I chose the Four Seasons because I’m a fan, mostly because it’s such a signature, classic, and high-end spot for many New Yorkers and out-of-towners, with instant name recognition. It’s also incredibly large with over 350 rooms so there’s a feeling of vastness and anonymity. Hopefully readers won’t have to get on a plane to feel as though they’ve traveled to New York and stayed at the hotel. But rather Based Upon Availability will make them feel as though they have.
Today is the first-ever Book Blogger Convention, and instead of posting the usual "Best of the Blogs" roundup, we are thrilled to welcome Rebecca Joines Schinsky to The Book Case. Rebecca is Associate Director of the convention, but she is probably better known for her smart and funny posts at The Book Lady's Blog--on everything from author events, to new books to her disdain for Nicholas Sparks. Below, Rebecca offers her advice for starting a book blog; if you've ever wondered about sharing your love for reading with a larger audience, you've come to the right place. Thank you, Rebecca!
When Eliza asked me to write this post, my first thought was, “Finally! An excuse to share all of the wisdom I’ve earned the hard way these past two years!”
Then I remembered that I’m really just making it up as I go along…
But I must be faking it pretty well if Eliza thought I actually, like, know things about blogging, so I figure I’ll take a stab at it. How bad could it get? I mean, I’m already known as that girl who talks about throwing her panties at authors.
(See what I mean about making it up as I go along? You can plan that kind of ridiculousness.)
Anyway, without further ado, my top five tips for new and would-be book bloggers.
Do Your Homework
I started blogging the way I do most things--I jumped right in. That was fun, but I did it without any real knowledge of different blogging platforms, software, gadgets, etc. I had (briefly) used Blogger in the past and didn’t love it, and several of the blogs I was reading at the time were on Wordpress, so I just trotted over to wordpress.com and signed up for an account. Then I proceeded to stumble my way through it.
That’s not a bad way to learn, but it is very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, and it can be stressful. If I had it to do over again, I’d spend more time learning about the options, talking to established bloggers (BTW, I love getting email from new bloggers and people who are thinking about starting), and considering the possibility of self-hosting. I’ve just made the transition, and I wish I’d started off self-hosted from the very beginning.
Also: do some googling and make sure there’s not already a blog or business with the title you’re considering. I really learned this one the hard way, as The Book Lady’s Blog started under a different name and changed when I got a scary “cease and desist” email from a business I’d never heard of but who had a copyright on the title I’d chosen.
Don’t Obsess About Free Books
Getting review copies and ARCs (advance reading copies, which are also called galleys) is privilege, not a right, and you don’t have to get them in order to write a fabulous blog.
Start off reviewing whatever you like, whatever you are reading. Sign up for the early reviewer programs at Goodreads and LibraryThing. Subscribe to Shelf Awareness, and click on their banner ads for ARCs. (You’ll be tempted to go crazy on it at first, but beware: the TBR pile will quickly grow to frightening size, and you’ll be wondering why the hell you requested that book in the first place.)
As you develop your blog and build your profile in the community, publishers and authors might reach out to you to ask you to read and review their books. It’s exciting when that happens, but don’t lose your head---accept the books you are actually interested in and pass on the rest. Consider posting a review policy on your blog that will help interested parties identify the books that will be a good fit for you.
Bottom line: you’re not entitled to free books, and it’s important to learn the etiquette that goes along with requesting them and reviewing them.
Regardless of what your goals for your blog may be, you need to get connected and meet people. If you *really* just wanted a place to record your thoughts, you’d write a diary. Blogging is about sharing your thoughts in a public forum, and it is much more fun when you have a little help from your friends.
Visit and comment on blogs you enjoy. Participate in the conversations that crop in the comments on your blog. Jump into the craziness that is Twitter. Don’t be intimidated by the supposedly “big bloggers.”
Social media is the great equalizer---you can tweet alongside your favorite authors and your idol bloggers, and there’s a good chance they’ll tweet back. All you have to do is reach out.
Which brings me to:
Save the Drama for Your Mama
So the post you wrote didn’t get any comments, or a blogger you’ve visited and commented on hasn’t commented on your blog, or someone didn’t respond to your tweet, or maybe you’re just feeling left out and lonely. These things happen. To all of us. You and your angst are not special.
Put your big kid underpants on and deal with it.
Nobody likes to read a whiny blog post about how alone you feel and how badly you wish more people would comment on your blog (hello, can we say fishing for compliments?), and nobody---really, nobody!---wants to read another post or tweet about blogging cliques. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that no two people define the “big bloggers” the same way, and there’s no secret blogging mafia who controls the internet.
Really, it’s the internet. It’s open to EVERYONE.
Take a few days off if you need to. Think about why you started blogging in the first place. Send an email to a trusted blogging friend. Remember that other bloggers have lives, too, and it’s probably not personal.
But keep it to yourself.
And please, for the love of all things sacred, don’t write a post that you know will be controversial just to stir the pot and drive traffic to your blog. Yes, the bump in hits will be nice, but it is so not worth it. Do you really want to be thought of as that person?
Be Yourself and Have Fun
Yes, it’s the same advice your mother gave you when you headed off to summer camp, but it’s still applicable. In fact, starting a blog is a lot like going off to camp in some ways. You don’t really know anybody, and you have to just put yourself out there.
My blog has A LOT of my personality in it, but that’s not a requirement. You can be as private or public as you like, but be true to yourself and your voice. Sure, it might sound like fun to write all of your reviews in Yoda-speak at the beginning, but how sustainable is that? Do you really want to be saying, “Loved this book a lot, I did” for the next ten years?
Talk about books the way you’d talk about anything else. Let your readers get to know you.
Anybody can write a summary or review of a book and post it on the internet. By being yourself, you make your blog a unique space, and you give readers a reason to keep coming back.
Also: do what works for you. There’s no right or wrong way to write a blog, no set number of required posts per week, no mandate on how often you blog or what you blog about.
If you build it, they will come. Write great content that reflects who you really are, and you’ll eventually find the right audience.
Photo by PJ Sykes.
Paul Doiron is the author of The Poacher’s Son (published May 11 by Minotaur Books), a crime novel about a rookie Maine game warden who is thrust into the hunt for a murderous fugitive—his own father. Doiron is also the editor-in-chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine and a Registered Maine Guide. In a guest blog post for BookPage, the author describes the night a game warden first came to his rescue and how the experience has haunted him ever since.
I was struck by lightning.
People use that term as a metaphor all the time, but in my case it actually happened. Beyond being a nightmare experience, it also served as the starting point for both my writing career and my lifelong fascination with Maine game wardens.
On Memorial Day weekend 22 years ago I went camping with two friends in the Mahoosuc Mountains of western Maine. I was fast asleep when the lightning struck. The bolt hit a fir-tree at the edge of the clearing where we had made our camp, and the electricity traveled through the roots. I was actually blown off the ground and received a burn the size of a quarter on my side.
My friend, sleeping in a tent nearer the tree, was not so lucky: the current nearly electrocuted him. We were miles from the nearest road, one thousand feet up. I spent five hours alone with my friend, thinking he would die, while his brother fetched help.
Just before dawn, help finally arrived—two emergency medical technicians, and the district game warden, a rugged man named Don Gray. They stabilized my friend’s breathing. Soon volunteers from the Appalachian Mountain Club and Outward Bound arrived to carry the litter down the steep hill to the ambulance.
My friend spent a week in the hospital, and doctors told us that his heart had stopped when the lightning struck. He recovered fully except that he had no memory of that night. I, however, will never forget it.
The article I wrote about our ordeal was the first I ever published, and it appeared in Down East, the magazine I now edit.
Despite my own trauma, I continued to explore the Maine woods, finding my way into the remote and dangerous backcountry. I met other game wardens and made friends with old loggers and trappers, even a former poacher or two. I started writing about some of these people, first for Down East and later in The Poacher’s Son.
In time I decided I was ready to take the test to become a Registered Maine Guide. Maine is one of the only states to require that anyone who guides people into the wilderness be licensed. At my oral exam I would face a panel of experienced and unforgiving outdoorsmen who would grill me on using a map and compass, first aid, woodcraft, canoeing and finding lost people.
On the morning of my exam, I was surprised to find, sitting across the table from me, a familiar face. Don Gray had retired from the Maine Warden Service, but he was still testing the mettle of potential guides.
I introduced myself as one of the boys struck by lightning on Baldpate Mountain so long ago.
Don nodded knowingly. “God,” he said, “Wasn’t that one hell of a night, though?”
An hour later I passed the test.
Editor's note: In BookPage, mystery columnist Bruce Tierney writes that The Poacher's Son is "easily one of the best debut novels in recent memory." Do you agree? What other mysteries or thrillers would you recommend to those who enjoyed The Poacher's Son?
Author photo by Mark Fleming
Author (and double Gemini!) Bonnie Hearn Hill launches a new young adult series, Star Crossed, this month. In a guest post, she explains how astrology can help a writer get to know her characters. Share your thoughts on her post in the comments by Friday, April 2, and you'll be entered to win a copy of the first book in the series, Aries Rising.
When I first started trying to write fiction many years ago, I was told by a well meaning teacher that I needed to decide if I was writing action-driven fiction (thrillers), voice-driven fiction (literary) or character-driven fiction. That didn't make sense to me even then. Isn't all memorable fiction character-driven? An intriguing character can save a mediocre plot, but the best plot in the world can't rescue a mediocre character.
Can using astrology help you create memorable characters? I think so. It's helped me, but then I haven't relied on it alone. So you need a proactive protagonist, and you say, "Okay, Aries is the Ram, a Fire sign. That's proactive enough." True, but Aries is not always a finisher. Or you say, "I want an emotional sign, so I'll choose a Water sign like Scorpio." But many Scorpios are too secretive to be proactive. You need to know more about your character than her Sun sign. Much more. That information should come from her.
Some of my writer friends believe in the character charts that ask everything from hair color to family history. Those lists make me feel as if I am taking a multiple-choice test. "Eyes? Blue! Hair? Black!" Although they request all of the pertinent information, the quizzes seem too left-brain to let me create organic characters.
When I began my Star Crossed young adult series, I had to hear the voice of Logan, my protagonist. I asked her to write me a letter. I've done this before when characters elude me. I ask them to write something like: "Dear Bonnie, My name is Logan McRae, and I was born . . . I live in . . . I have no siblings, and my mom spends most of her time on a golf tour. I miss her, but I'm happy she's living her dream. At least that's what my dad and I tell each other. My problem now is . . ."
These letters from my characters are usually five or more pages. Of course, I resist this exercise because I want to do the "real writing," but I know the writing won't be real until I truly know my character. Once I do it, and once I hear my character telling me about her life, I can say, "She's not an Aries. This character is an Earth sign who is willing to work hard for what she wants. She sounds like a Capricorn."
Use all of the tools you have. Start with the character's voice, and then you'll be ready to shade in the rest with astrology. Here's the down and dirty on the different signs. Don't let it limit you, though. As Logan learns in the Star Crossed series, the Sun sign is not the sum of a person's personality.
Fire signs: Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
They get things done. Aries rams. Leo likes attention. Sadge travels and talks.
Earth signs: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
They keep things stable. Taurus is stubborn but loyal. Virgo is detail-oriented and sometimes critical. Capricorn works really hard and may worry about money when young.
Air signs: Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
They are the communicators. Gemini spreads the news, often without filtering it. Libra speaks frequently of self as if trying to understand what to do. Aquarius speaks from an intellectual plane and with a desire to do well for all.
Water signs: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
These are the emotional signs. Frequently they have difficulty breaking from the past. They can also be supportive friends. Cancer is loyal to family and will destroy anyone who challenges or threatens family members. Scorpio is secretive with unfinished business, and loyal to the end. Pisces is a dreamer who has earned the doormat reputation. He's also one of the most spiritual and creative signs.