Tag Archives: Books

An Interview with Author J. K. Kelly

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(See my other Author Interviews ) – I have read, enjoyed, and reviewed two of Mr. Kelly’s novels – “Found In Time” & “The Lost Pulse“. Mr. Kelly was kind enough to let me interview him a short time ago.


Myself: When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer?

Kelly: That might actually go back as far as grade school. I liked to tell stories as far back as those years but once I learned how to type in freshman year of high school I had learned something that could keep up with my thoughts and it was on from there.

Myself: What is the first piece that you remember writing?

Kelly: The first writing credit I ever received was in the sixth grade. In response to a question from the editor of Highlights Magazine who posed the question – “Do you believe Martians exist?” – I wrote back that I’d believe it when I saw them walking down main street. They ran my response and a cartoon that made the cover that of two Martians walking down the street as school kids hid behind mailboxes and store facades and watched in awe.

Myself: That is really a special way to begin your writing career. What is your academic and work background?

Kelly: I studied Journalism and Law Enforcement at Penn State University but when I was offered a dream job, that of the PR Director for a NASCAR team in Charlotte, I left the Happy Valley and never looked back.  I had been doing freelance writing and photography on weekends while I was in college and that was my first dream job – traveling, writing, taking pictures, and going to the races. A detour due to the needs of my family took me from the NASCAR gig and I thought I was finished but when an opportunity with a small start-up named VP opened in Pennsylvania I was back in racing and spent the next 28 years helping to build that company into the global player it is today. I was able to satisfy my craving to write by contributing PR and marketing materials in lieu of a proper marketing team but once it was time to come in off the road I was able to jump back into storytelling and here we are, four years and three novels later.

Myself: That background is similar to some of the other authors I have interviewed. So many seem to have been interested in writing most of their lives but only were really able to pursue it once they were retired. What part of the world do you currently live in?

Kelly: I live in Media, Pennsylvania with my wife Lisa and the yellow lab she promised me if I ever agreed to stop the global travel. 

Myself: Do you think that living there has affected your writing?

Kelly: Only in that like some of the film directors and actors who are from or favor the region in their work, I like to include elements of Philadelphia or it’s historic sites and sports teams from time to time in a scene or two.

Myself: How do you relax? What are your hobbies?

Kelly: Spending time with my kids and grandkids, something I missed a great deal of while I was working in motorsports, is a great pleasure for me.  A good film, book, or walk with my wife does the trick but believe it or not, travel relaxes me. Whether it’s a thousand-mile drive or a flight to the other side of the world, it relaxes me and gives me a clear head to develop ideas for what I am writing or what I might like to tackle next. 

I still enjoy photography, football, and watching auto racing – primarily rally car racing – very much.

Myself: I agree that being able to spend time with kids and grandkids in retirement is satisfying. My wife and I enjoy driving across the country too, though I would not say that it relaxes either of us. What else would you like to share about yourself?

Kelly: Just that I’ve always considered myself a very lucky person. I was adopted by a great set of parents when I was an infant. I could have been adopted by who knows what but my adoptive parents were fantastic and what they didn’t pass along to me in genes they most certainly did with their love and life lessons and I’ve been on a lucky streak ever since. I touched on adoption in a scene in Found In Time and hope that touched any readers who could relate.

Myself: Did you read much growing up?

Kelly: Actually not that much because the Catholic school nuns in the 60’s used to knock some of us about when we said defiantly that we didn’t see much reason to read the assignments or memorize poems. That might actually have pushed me away from books for a time.

Myself: What have you read recently?

Kelly: In the last few months I’ve read two of Brad Thor’s latest, Navy Seal Brandon Webb’s Mastering Fear, A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin, Murphy’s Law by Jack Murphy, Endurance by Scott Kelly (no relation), Endurance by Frank Worsley, and I’m racing through one of Mark Greaney’s thrillers. 

Myself: You have read quite a lot in the past few months What is your favorite genre? book? character? author?

Kelly: Oh that’s tough. I really enjoy autobiographies but of course, thrillers come in an extremely close second.  It goes without saying I think JJ Jackson is a real badass with a heart but you might expect that of me. My favorite book is a tough one, it’s like asking favorite movie, of which there are at least a half dozen.  I really got into Dan Brown, appreciate James Patterson for his work and taking the time to give me some advice, and I am looking forward to seeing what Brad Thor’s got coming next. There are many more but too many to list.

Myself: I too have been a fan of Dan Brown and have read most of his novels and I have read some James Patterson. Where is your favorite place to read?

Kelly: In bed late at night when there’s not a sound in the house. 

Myself: Do you prefer paper or eBooks? Do you listen to audiobooks?

Kelly: I do prefer paper but I always have 2-3 audiobooks loaded so I can dive into something good when I’m driving to a trade show or a race. It’s weird though because I can’t listen when I’m just sitting still.

Myself: What books do you recommend to others? Give as gifts?

Kelly: That’s tough. All of my friends have such different interests in books. If a book lover I know is due a gift they get a B&N gift card.

Myself: What makes you sit down and want to share your stories?

Kelly: I like to entertain people, sometimes with jokes and other times with wild stories so there’s that. When I can up with a concept for a book and it excites me then I can’t wait to get it on paper and get someone to give it a read. If they come back with a smile or a laugh or ask what happens next then I feed off of that.  There’s an excitement in a book lover’s eyes and I like fueling that, giving them something they react very well too, fuels whatever it is inside me that’s driving the creative.

Myself: What are your ambitions for your writing career?

Kelly: I’d like to reach the level of success that I’m fueling a much larger audience the way I described a moment ago.  I saw how much I had to work and sacrifice to help grow that start-up into a global player and now I’ve turned that same focus and passion into my writing.  With a little of that luck I mentioned earlier hopefully more and more readers, an agent and hopefully a publisher, will help me reach that goal.

Myself: Is there anyone who has influenced your writing?

Kelly: I’ve worked with a few editors who throw a lasso from time to time and ask me, “you intended to go there?” and then I either explain it and keep going or listen to their counsel and reel it back in a bit.  As far as any authors, I can say, generally speaking, any of those who kept me reading, regardless of how late it was. 

Myself: How did you pick the genres for your stories?

Kelly: Oh, that’s an interesting wall I crashed into.  I wrote my first novel, Found In Time, as a story that featured good guys killing bad guys, camaraderie, non-stop action, love and heartbreak, science fiction/time travel, history, and a trip to Gethsemane where a group of Marines took a knee to ask for a miracle.  Then I had people in the industry told me I needed to pick one. Ok, thriller!

Myself: Where do your story ideas come from?

Kelly: With the fiction, the story ideas just come.  When I used to spend a lot of time telling jokes people would ask me, “How the heck do you come up with this stuff?” and the same holds true for my books. The fact that I’ve seen so much of the world allows me to take the readers to places they might not ever get to or even know existed. In the case of the non-fiction Fuelin’ Around, which is about my time in the motorsports world, people often told me they thought I had a very interesting life and should share it so I did.

Myself: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you?

Kelly: I write the first chapter and then layout on a whiteboard where we should go from there. Sometimes we take a left or a right and if it works, we come back to the original bearing or follow the flow.  In one case, I wrote the first and last chapters and then built the middle. That was an interesting journey.

Myself: Where do you do your writing? Why there?

Kelly: 95% of the time it’s in my home office. It’s quiet until the dog or the Mrs. decides that it’s time to disrupt things for a bit but I’ve threatened shock collars for them both so they usually leave me to it when they can tell I’m on a roll. In actuality, Lisa works in fashion and is out of the house quite often and we take our lab to a really neat place where she can run around with her friends all day and then comes home worn out, happy, and hoping for dinner.  

Myself: What is your schedule like when you are writing?

Kelly: I can sit down at 8am and not look up until I need more coffee. It might be noon or later and then it continues.  Most times I know when it’s time to stop and give the brain and the hands a break.  Then I might be headed out to play with two of my grandchildren and will come up with an edit that I will dictate into Notes on my phone while I drive. 

I can write for three days in a row or one day in a week and then jump back in like I hadn’t stopped. 

Myself: About how long does it take you to complete a first draft? How long do your revisions take? 

Kelly: It might take six months to get to what might be halfway and then I start feeding chapters to one of the editors I work with for feedback. I keep moving forward and then apply or push back on some of their critiques. In all, from start to finish, it takes me a year but that’s because I’m on my own schedule.  I write some things for one of my past employers and if they give me a deadline, I always deliver with time to spare. Hopefully, someday a book publisher will offer me that challenge.

Myself: How much research do you put into a novel?

Kelly: Whatever I need in order to make the story credible. I’ve been everywhere I write about, except Camp David and the ISS. I know a bit about weapons, law enforcement, and the military and find experts who can answer what I need in order to get it right. The next novel is mid-way through at this point and I sought out some extraordinary people in some very high places to make sure what I was writing was dead on.

Myself: What tools (software?) do you use in your writing?

Kelly: Word. I’ve also been using First Draft to develop a screenplay.

Myself: What are the hardest and easiest things about writing?

Kelly: For me, it was the rejection letters. They’re like a drag race. You get one shot and if you don’t get a win light you pack up and go home to race another day. To me, the easy part is telling the story.

Myself: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Kelly: Get feedback from people who will give you an honest opinion on your work and be sure you know what you want to get out of writing and then go for it. Then work with some people who can help you make sure your writing and the work is the best it possibly can be.

Myself: What novels/works have you published?

Kelly: Only three so far:

  1. Found In Time, my debut novel, October 2017
  2. Fuelin’ Around, non-fiction, November 2018
  3. The Lost Pulse, sequel to FIT, October 2019

Myself: What are you currently working on?

Kelly: I had started a new novel, another thriller, a few months back but the JJ [the main character from Found in Time and The Lost Pulse] pulled me back in and so he’s back but not everyone made it home this time. The feedback from the team I work with is very, very good so I’m really looking forward to the next few months of work.  I’m still hoping to partner with someone who can help take it all to the next level in publishing.

Myself: What else would you like to share?

Kelly: I’m very thankful to everyone who encouraged me to follow my passions throughout my life and who helped me along the way.  The feedback and reviews I have received, and I do very much remember your review of Found In Time, has been so encouraging I can’t thank you and the others who have been so kind to me. Thank you John.

Myself: How should your fans follow you or get in touch?

Kelly: The easiest thing is to visit my website JKKelly.com and contact me there. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well, but the website works best for me.

Today is Author’s Day and begins NaNoWriMo

National Author's Day

(See my other Writing related posts) – Today is National Author’s Day, a day to celebrate your favorite authors and the books they have created. You can help recognize it by purchasing books from your favorite author and/or sharing information about your favorite books and authors on social media.

You may want to look at some of the Author Interviews I have posted.

Today is also the beginning of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Are you trying your hand at authoring a novel this month? This is a great opportunity to dive in and write that novel you have been thinking about.

Thinking about putting your ideas down on paper? You might find the article “How to Plot and Write a Novel With 12 Free Templates & Worksheets” of interest. This article gives several suggestions as to how you can get started.

Interview with Author Andreas Economou

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(Andreas Economou in Florence, Italy with the Duomo and its Campanile (bell tower) behind him)

(See the other Author Interviews on my Blog) – I read Andreas Economou’s novel “Templar Secrets” a few weeks ago and, after posting my review, I asked the author for an interview.


Myself: When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer?

Economou: After working in a bank for almost 3 decades, I realized the dreaded futility of it all. It started to feel that what I’d been doing all those years would never endure the ravages of time. Heck, it wouldn’t survive the next fiscal quarter! So, I had to get out. I needed the world to hear my voice and thoughts in a meaningful way. I had to write.

Myself: What is the first piece that you remember writing?

Economou: My first attempt at writing was at the age of 12. I wrote a detective “novel,” based on my favorite TV show at the time. And I remember being quite proud of my achievement. The end result? A full 12 pages—front and back! Then, puberty set in and everything went haywire. My creative juices found other, non-writing, stuff much more appealing. Unfortunately, it took too many years for that situation to sort itself out.

Myself: What part of the world do you currently live in? Has it affected your writing?

Economou: I live in Cyprus, an island on the easternmost shores of the Mediterranean, just south of Turkey and northwest of Israel. It’s an island rich in history, going all the back to 7,000 BCE (according to one of the earliest human settlements discovered on it). In fact, the village of Khirokitia, where this settlement was found, has an even more fascinating link to world history: it was also the site of one the strongholds the Knights Templar had on Cyprus. Contrary to what you’ll hear in most documentaries these days after the Holy Land was irrevocably lost in the 13th century, the Templars didn’t return en masse to Europe. They set up their next (and last) headquarters in Cyprus.
This, along with my 22-year membership in a Greek-speaking Masonic Lodge, and the fact that Larnaca (the city I grew up and live in) was the island’s major Phoenician colony in antiquity, gave me all the inspiration I needed to write “Templar Secrets.”

Myself: What’s the earliest book you remember reading for yourself?

Economou: As a prepubescent, I must have read Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” about a dozen times. Yet, every time I did, the injustices that boy suffered always brought tears to my eyes.

Myself: What book that you read as a child stands out in your memory? 

Economou: That would be Jules Verne’s “Mysterious Island.” When I read it at age 13, in the summer just before starting high school, it cultivated all sorts of subjects in my mind: the power of human creativity and resourcefulness; how important science is to our lives; and, that anything seemingly mysterious usually has an explainable cause behind it (to name but a few).

Myself: I too read Jules Verne at about that same age. I am still amazed at the science fiction he produced. What is your favorite genre? book? character? author? 

Economou: Besides Jules Verne, the one whom I’ve read the most is Isaac Asimov. There was a time when I used to “gobble up” his “Foundation” and “Robot” series. Then, after a phase of non-fiction, evolution-centered books, I moved on into Historical Fiction. And by that, I don’t mean the books with the naked, six-pack hunks on their covers. (If you don’t believe me try searching for “middle ages historical fiction” in Amazon’s Kindle Store. You’ll be amazed at how many there are! Those are just period romance novels, which were never my cup of tea.) No, the ones I mean are by the likes of Umberto Eco, Ken Follett, Bernard Cornwell, Alexandre Dumas, and (yes) Charles Dickens.

Myself: I have read much of Asimov, Follet, and Dumas as well. How did you pick the genres for your stories? Where do your story ideas come from?

Economou: I don’t think my first book, “First Adam,” (an apropos title) fits into any standard genre category. If there were such categories as, “Prehistoric Fiction,” or “Bible Tweaking,” it might fit into those. You see, influenced by all the books I read on Human Evolution, I wanted to tell the story of how the earliest man (Homo sapiens) might have emerged into our world. So, using the Adam & Eve story from the Bible as a loose basis, I devised a story parallel to it, but in Africa 200,000 years before our time.

When that was out of the way, and self-published, I pondered whether to write something within the Science Fiction genre, one of my favorites. But, alas, my knowledge of science isn’t very extensive, so instead of writing a subpar book, I decided to focus on Historical Fiction (the real one) instead. “Templar Secrets,” my second novel, spans almost 3 millennia, starting from the 10th Century BCE, it passes through the Middle Ages and winds itself all the way up to modern times.

Myself: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you?

Economou: You know, that’s a great question because I must say in my experience it’s a bit of both. I start out with a rough outline, but there’s always something missing. For example, in “First Adam,” I had an idea of what the ending might be, but the journey leading up to that eluded me. It just sorted itself out along the way. And in “Templar Secrets” the stories of the various characters and classes of characters were carefully plotted out, but the ending was nowhere in sight. At the opportune moment though, it also turned up by itself. So, I’ve found that a story, more often than not, has a life and a will of its own.

Myself: How much research do you put into a novel?

Economou: I do extensive, some might say exhaustive, research. And I do so because on matters of authenticity I will suffer no discrepancy. I’ve read too many books and seen too many movies, the facts of which can be debunked by a simple visit to Wikipedia. In writing Historical Fiction my motto is: “The facts of history are sacred.” That said, every period has its gray areas, its missing pieces. And every historical period has its little unresolved mysteries, especially during the Middle Ages in Europe. So, what better than to keep the undisputed historical facts true, while also fusing them with answers to longstanding mysteries without the fear of contradiction?

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In “Templar Secrets” I strived to do just that, blending history with “solutions” to many historical question marks. For instance:

  • The exact date the Knights Templar were founded, or how many men it originally consisted of are matters still debated. I venture answers to both questions.
  • Why did the Muslim sect of Assassins murder Raymond II, the Count of Tripoli, in 1152?
  • Likewise, why did a group of Templars kill an Assassin envoy, who was under the protection of the King of Jerusalem, much later in 1173?
  • What happened to Pierre de Bologna, the last Templar Ambassador to the Vatican, after his arrest in 1307? Was he murdered, as feared, or did he escape?
  • Where is the fabled treasure of the Knights Templar hidden?
  • Who was Wat Tyler, the leader of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 in England?
  • Who foiled the Gunpowder Plot of 1605?
  • What really happened during the meetings leading up to the first Masonic Grand Lodge in London?

All these (and many more) historical “blind spots” are addressed.

Myself: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Economou: With only 2 books under my belt, so far, I can hardly be called an author myself. To be considered one, I’ve been told you have to have written at least 4. So, I’m not the right person to ask for advice on writing. However, as in all other walks of life and professions, diligence, persistence, and dedication are always necessary qualities.

Myself: What novels/works have you published?

Economou: As I already stated, I’ve written 2 novels so far, both of which have been self-published. Unfortunately, it proved impossible to find a literary agent or publisher willing to take on an unknown writer from Cyprus.

“First Adam: The Father of Us All” introduces the first modern man, and his quest to find his real parents, in Africa 200.000 years ago.

My second attempt was a little closer to home, and it put into effect what authors are frequently advised to do: “Write about what you know.” For 22 years, I used to be a Freemason. So, using that experience, I decided to write about how this ancient institution came into being. “Templar Secrets” starts from when the Temple of Solomon was built in Jerusalem. Then, it looks into how the Knights Templar got started in the Middle Ages, and why they gradually morphed into the Freemasons. Finally, a young, new Mason in modern-day Cyprus tries to unravel all these events after his initiation.

Myself: What are you currently working on?

Economou: At the moment I’m working on a book about the most illustrious King of Cyprus, Peter I. His story will have ties to the Secret Society I introduced in “Templar Secrets.”

Myself: What else would you like to share?

Economou: As ever, I dedicate all my work to my sons, Marcos and Achilleas. I just hope it makes them as proud of me as I am of them.

Myself: How should your fans follow you or get in touch?

Economou: I don’t know whether I have “fans” or not yet, but I really like it when people who’ve read my books reach out. I welcome that. They can do so in any number of ways:
Email: aeconomu@cytanet.com.cy
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aeconomou & https://www.facebook.com/AEconomouAuthor/
Website: https://www.aeconomouauthor.com/

And, I’ll deeply appreciate if you could follow my Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Andreas-Economou/e/B014AAMJU4

Why Buy if You Can Borrow from Your Library?

(See my other Reading related posts) – I saw an article that described the Library Extension a short time ago. I installed it in my Chrome browser and gave it a try today. It seems to work well.

What is the Library Extension? It is a free extension for either the Chrome or Firefox browsers that will tell you when you browse for books on Amazon (or Barnes & Nobles, Goodreads or Audible, among other sites) if your library has the book and if it is currently available.

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How do you use it? Download the extension and install it in your browser (visit the site https://www.libraryextension.com and then click on the appropriate ‘Install’ button).

Screen Shot 2019-07-14 at 6.37.45 PMOnce the extension is installed in your browser you need to configure it. To do that click on the icon of a stack of books in the top right corner of your Chrome browser (A similar icon will appear in the top right corner of your Firefox browser too).

 

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In the window, you will first configure what libraries you have access to. These are organized by country and state. Both fields are pull-down menus. Then select the library from the pull-down menu and click on the ‘Add’ button. Add all of the libraries you have borrowing privileges from.

 

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When you have your libraries selected, click on the ‘Sites’ tab. By default, all the choices will be selected. I went through the list and disable those sites specific to countries other than the US.

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Now you are ready to start using the extension. Just visit a book site (like Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, or Google). As you browse looking for books, you will see a pop-up on the right side of the page to indicate that the book you are looking at is available at your library.

Get eBooks for Free!

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(See my other posts on Reading) – I came across the article “10 ways to download and read books online for free” today and wanted to share the suggestions it contained. I was aware of some of the suggestions, but not all. For any avid readers who want a source of lower cost reading material, these suggestions may be of value.

The suggestions:

  1. Authorama features hundreds of public domain works
  2. Project Gutenberg has more than 58,000 free eBooks
  3. LibriVox has free public domain audiobooks
  4. ManyBooks offers a selection of classics and contemporary novels
  5. BookBub is a website with books, some free to download, and some are on sale for prices as low as 99 cents [I used this site many times when I first started reading ebooks – check out my full list of ebook sources on my Books & Reading page]
  6. Goodreads community created lists including free e-books from indie and self-published authors, public domain classics, audiobooks from Librivox, books for kids, previews, samples and more
  7. Smashwords has an extensive catalog of contemporary and classic fiction, non-fiction, essays, plays and screenplays that can be filtered by price
  8. Digilibraries has a similar layout to Project Gutenberg with mostly public domain titles
  9. BookLending “matches” users who can help out with someone else’s literary needs
  10. public library apps can be a good source of ebooks

Today is World Book Day UK & Ireland

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Reading – I just saw that March 7, 2019, is World Book Day in the UK and Ireland. Since I am currently in Singapore I guess I can celebrate as it was once part of the British Commonwealth and also because my grandfather immigrated to the US from the UK. Besides, I think that this is a good cause to support! This is not the only day it is celebrated around the world. From their website:

In other countries, World Book and Copyright Day take place on 23 April. Celebrations take place all over the world to recognize the magical power of books – ‘a link between the past and the future, a bridge between generations and across cultures. 

World Book Day was first celebrated on April 23, 1995, after its designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). That date continues to be recognized as World Book Day in much of the world. April 23 was chosen because it is the date on which  William Shakespeare died (April 23, 1616). I guess that means I will be able to celebrate it again next month!.

Per the Days of the Year site, you should celebrate World Book Day by:

. . .  find[ing] the time to do some reading. Do you have a book you just can’t get around to finishing? Today’s the time to curl up on the couch or a blanket outside with a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy every last page.

If you have children, this could be the perfect day to teach them about the joys of reading. . . .  Imagination is a child’s best friend, so make sure you contribute to keeping that little imagination as active as possible. Pick a topic your child is interested in, and spend part of this day exploring the magical world of literature together!

Yet another way to go about celebrating this day would be to get together with some friends for a reading of a book you all love.

Find a way that you can celebrate World Book Day! I think the importance of books is best summed up by this quote from author Alan BennettA book is a device to ignite the imagination.”

 

There is a Technique to Remembering What You Read

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Reading – I came across the article “How to remember what you read: What to do before, during, and after reading anything” a short time ago and thought it had many ideas worth sharing on how to remember what you read. Among those ideas are:

  • the more you’re able to connect the information you get from reading, the more knowledgable you’ll become
  • if you want to remember what you read you need to be specific and intentional
  • remembering what you read comes down to hitting three factors: Impression, association, and repetition
  • There’s simply too much to read if you don’t curate your reading list
  • forcing yourself to read books you’re not interested in just wastes time (that is why I sometimes call a Rule of 50 to quit reading a book)
  • if you’re looking to remember and use what you read, it’s better to know how you’re going to use it
  • skimming and doing ‘pre-reading’ is a great way to solidify what you’re reading in memory
  • use active reading – the process of reading with determination to understand and evaluate how and if to use the information you’re reading
  • a technique such as marginalia (handwriting notes in the margin and marking up key patterns for follow-ups) or sketchnotes (drawing notes and ideas) will make you a more active reader and help lock information in your memory.
  • as you read and come across new ideas, try to associate them with familiar memories as a means of creating a bond between old and new
  • when we connect memories or thoughts to different experiences those moments are stored in our neocortex—a part of the brain that is much easier for us to recall.
  • one of the best ways to remember what you read is to find opportunities to use it
  • if you’re reading to remember and grow either personally or professionally, you need to be more deliberate

Sadly. a study published in Time magazine found that Americans read, on average, just 19-minutes a day. And that number drops to 10-minutes or less for people under 34. According to a University of Michigan Health study, at a minimum, people should be reading for 30 minutes a day.

How much do you read each day? Generally, I try to spend 2-5 hours reading each day.

Interview with Author Emilia Bernhard

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Interviews – A few weeks ago I read and then wrote a review of the mystery “Death in Paris”. After I posted my review I contacted the author, Emilia Bernhard, and arranged to interview her.

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Myself: When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer?

Bernhard: I don’t think I did realize, really. I always wrote, and at an early age, I was told I was good. Except for about five years when I had the worst and most painful writer’s block imaginable, I don’t think a day went by without my doing some form of writing — I kept a journal, I wrote letters and e-mails, I wrote essays for school and articles after I became a graduate student. And even today I write at least something every day; it would feel odd not to. So I think I was always a writer.

Myself: What is the first piece that you remember writing?

Bernhard: A composition while I was in detention in sixth grade (age 11)!

Myself: What is your academic and work background?

Bernhard: I have a Ph.D., and I work as a lecturer (professor, for Americans) in 19th-century British literature at the University of Exeter, in the UK.

Myself: Do you live there in Exeter?

Bernhard: Yes.

Myself: Do you think that living there has affected your writing?

Bernhard: No. I scarcely even look out a window when I write, except when I stare at nothing while thinking! Lots of good cafes to sit in and revise, though.

Myself: How do you relax? What are your hobbies?

Bernhard: Well, my top hobby is reading. I also love to dance (ballet and tango), and I’m starting to get back into taking ballet lessons after a long gap. And I love going to the cinema or watching films at home. Oh, and I walk twenty-five miles a week, but that’s not a hobby: I do it to lose weight.

Myself: What else would you like to share about yourself?

Bernhard: That I’m cute as a button and don’t suffer fools gladly.

Myself: What’s the earliest book you remember reading for yourself?

Bernhard: “The Story of Ferdinand“, by Munro Leaf. I still love it.

Myself: Did you read much growing up?

Bernhard: I did nothing but!

Myself: What book that you read as a child stands out in your memory?

Bernhard: Hands down the answer here is “Jane Eyre”. I found it on a shelf in my classroom when I was 12 years old. I remember the cover vividly: it was purple, and in the center was a photo of a young woman holding a candle. I think it might have been abridged, because there’s a whole bit in the novel where she lives with some religious cousins, and I don’t remember that being in what I read; I was quite surprised to come across it when I re-read the novel as a young adult. I loved the book. I loved Jane — I was bullied, and I admired her quiet stoicism — and I was much struck by Mrs. Rochester. I still love it as an adult: I think “Reader, I married him,” is one of the most perfect sentences in fiction. And I still think the bit where she lives with the religious cousins could be left out!

Myself: What have you read recently?

Bernhard: Two biographies of Peter Sellers, both of which I put down before finishing — Peter Sellers seems to attract biographers who wish to inject antic wit into their biographies, and that didn’t work for me. Before that, “The Position”, by Meg Wolitzer, and her “The Wife”, which I loved, loved, loved; a biography of the Duchess of Windsor; and a book called “I Was Anastasia” that I picked up at random in the library. I read fast — I average a book in about three days — so I tend to read pretty widely.

Myself: What is your favorite genre? book? character? author?

Bernhard: Hmm…I guess I would say “intellectual novel” is my favorite genre if that’s a genre. I like best books in which there is subtext, and/or books that are well written.

I don’t really have a favorite character or author, because my job means I’ve read and taken to my heart so many characters and authors. I’m awfully fond of “David Copperfield”, book and character, and of “Great Expectations”. But a book I’ve turned to again and again when I need a comfort read is Maeve Binchy’s “Light a Penny Candle”. It was her first book, and it’s surprisingly good.

Myself: Where is your favorite place to read?

Bernhard: On my sofa or in bed.

Myself: Do you prefer paper or eBooks? Do you listen to audiobooks?

Bernhard: I absolutely prefer paper to any other format. Every time I open a book, even if I’m just idly looking at it, the first thing I do is smell it. You can’t do that with an e-reader, or with audiobooks! I love the different smells and feels of different papers, so paper reading is the one for me. I do listen to audiobooks, usually when I’m doing something that requires my hands, and I have read eBooks — but my issue with them is that I’ve already forked out for the Kindle, so I’m not going to fork out again for books to read on it — so the Kindle is just for books that are free to download.

Myself: What books do you recommend to others? Give as gifts?

Bernhard: I give “Jane Eyre” to every twelve- or thirteen-year-old girl I know well enough to give a gift to, and I’ve been recommending “The Wife” all over the place. Aside from that, I tend to try to suit the recommendation to the person. Tell me what you’re like, and I’ll tell you what you might like…

Myself: Why do you write?

Bernhard: For me, that’s like asking, Why is hair? I just do.

Myself: What makes you sit down and want to share your stories?

Bernhard: I’m still not really sure I do! My best friend pressured me to submit a novel to agents, and that’s the only reason I got this book published. Sometimes I think there’s nothing wrong with just writing for the pleasure of it, but then sometimes I think there’s no point in writing without an audience reading.

Myself: Is there anyone who has influenced your writing?

Bernhard: My father, without a doubt. He read everything I wrote until I finished my first academic book, and without him, I wouldn’t be the writer I am. Then there’s a whole host of writers I’ve read and admired: they all sit around in my head and occasionally inspire a joke or the structure of a sentence or scene.

Myself: How did you pick the genres for your stories?

Bernhard: It’s just whatever feels right. Although they seem always to include a murder, and that’s been true since I was in college thirty years ago.

Myself: Where do your story ideas come from?

Bernhard: Well, the idea for this novel, “Death in Paris”, came because I wanted to have someone drown in his soup. I thought the “died in his sleep/soup” confusion was very funny (sadly, I still do), and so I built from that line; I made up a story that would connect to that line. The idea for the mystery itself came from a very old murder that’s always seemed odd to me.

More generally, I would have to say I don’t know where my ideas come from. Sometimes I’ll just have a set-up (“two brothers”) that pops into my head, or there’ll be an idea (“jealousy”) and I build a story around it.

I don’t believe in inspiration as an outside force that descends, but I do believe we have a lot of things roiling around in our subconscious-es and unconscious-es, and sometimes something randomly comes bobbing to the top, entering the conscious mind — I’d call that inspiration, and I think it’s where my ideas come from.

Myself: Where do you do your writing? Why there?

Bernhard: I write on a desk I bought from Ikea that is essentially a long piece of wood laid across two trestles. I have desk daydreams; I fantasize about a desk that’s as long as an upended door — maybe even longer! — with a center drawer for my pencils and some paper and a pale wood smooth surface. I’m pretty sure that’s my ideal desk because it suggests a kind of blank emptiness, which I find intensely soothing but very rarely encounter in my home. Oh, and I turn the desk either so it faces a window or so it’s at right angles to it because I love natural light and like to glance out the window at the sky while I’m writing.

Myself: What is your schedule like when you are writing?

Bernhard: Well, because I have another job that’s very intensive in fall, winter, and spring, I generally write my first drafts in the summer. Academics are working all the time, but in the summer the work we’re expected to do is research and writing. So I fit writing my initial drafts around the academic writing I do in the summer. Because I can do the revisions in little chunks, I do it during the school year, for between an hour and two hours a day.

Myself: As a part-time writer how do you fit writing into your daily schedule?

Bernhard: Well, I have no family. As Joan Baez said, “I am made to live alone.” And I realized early on that I don’t have the temperament to be a mother, so I’m not one. This makes it much easier to write, but of course, I still have a job. So I set myself a low goal, 1,000 words a day, and I try to stick to it even on work days. I’m most awake in the evening and at night, so I’ll usually do the 1,000 words then. Some days it takes an hour; some days it takes much time and hair-pulling. And some days I don’t make it, which is fine. But I do write at least one paragraph a day.

Myself: About how long does it take you to complete the first draft? How long do your revisions take?

Bernhard: First draft – six weeks to five months. Revisions take much, much longer — up to three or four years. And it’s still never perfect.

Myself: How much research do you put into a novel?

Bernhard: An ENORMOUS amount. I look up everything I don’t know. For my first mystery, I read up on French law, the structure of the French police, and even the architectural history of Paris. And I use Google Maps obsessively. Walking the streets via Google Satellite is hugely useful to me.

Myself: What tools (software?) do you use in your writing?

Bernhard: Just a Macbook and a pencil, a red pen, and paper.

Myself: What are the hardest and easiest things about writing?

Bernhard: The hardest thing about writing is writing the first draft and trying to remember, while doing so, that the awful and inadequate glop you are producing will NOT be the finished product — trying to remember that this is how first drafts always are, and they always get better.

The easiest thing about writing is not doing it! Someone once said that the only thing writers like better than writing is finding ways to avoid writing, and that’s 100% true in my case. There’s always something to tidy, or organize, or watch on TV, or laundry to do or a cup of tea to make, that can delay sitting down to write. I don’t think this is out of fear of the blank page; I think in my case it’s out of fear of the hard work. Almost anything seems smaller than the production of good writing does.

Myself: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Bernhard: You don’t need to be published to be a writer; look at Emily Dickinson.

You shouldn’t look to other people to validate your writing, but you must be the harshest critic to yourself that you can be, no matter how good you think you are: always question all your judgments and every word (except maybe the prepositions).

Don’t wait for inspiration. Write every day, even if it’s just a little bit because writing is a job like any other: the more you do it, the better you get.

First drafts are horrible, and the experience of writing them is horrible. The revision is where you make it good. My father always said, “The first time, you don’t have to get it right; you just have to get it down.”

About 80 to 90% of what you write in your early drafts will be bad. If you write one good sentence in the early days, you’re winning.

Don’t put anything in a story or novel that isn’t in the service of that story or novel, unless you’re just writing for yourself (which is fine; see my first piece of advice).

Cut cut cut cut cut cut cut.

Revel in the pleasure of writing. In those rare moments when you feel like it’s all going perfectly, enjoy it! Enjoy, too, the extraordinary fun of being able to create a complete world, with complete people performing actions. And enjoy making your writing better. Never underestimate the power of the right revision.

Never stop writing to make mayonnaise or open a bottle of wine. Robert Louis Stevenson stopped in the middle of a sentence in order either to make mayonnaise for his lunch or (depending on the story) to open a bottle of wine for his lunch. He had a brain hemorrhage and died while doing that, and he never finished the sentence. Or the book it was in.

Myself: What novels/works have you published?

Bernhard: A mystery, “Death in Paris”, and a scholarly book about Lord Byron’s philosophy of knowledge, “The Development of Byron’s Philosophy of Knowledge: Certain in Uncertainty”. Also a number of academic articles.

Myself: What are you currently working on?

Bernhard: I’m working on my second mystery, tentatively titled “The Books of the Dead”.

Myself: What else would you like to share?

Bernhard: Three things come to mind:

  1. Donald Trump is a dangerous idiot who is peddling a fantasy of power to people who feel powerless. Please don’t vote Republican now.
  2. Age can bring a depth of understanding and feeling that is to be welcomed. Youth is often over-rated.
  3. The voices of the seemingly ordinary and uninteresting are fascinating and deserve to be written and heard — the complexity and bravery of a life occur inside, not necessarily in large actions and demonstrations.

Myself: How should your fans follow you or get in touch?

Bernhard: I have a Facebook author page: Emilia Bernhard Author Page. I’m also on Twitter: my name is @1LaMew. They can follow me on Instagram at emilia_bernhard. Or they can contact me via the University of Exeter.

Download Books Newly Added to the Public Domain

Reading – I hadn’t thought of this before until I read an article about it the other day, but no books have been added to the Public Domain in the past 20 years. Works from 1923 were originally to go into the public domain in 1999, after a 75-year copyright term. But in 1998 Congress hit a two-decade pause button and extended their copyright term for 20 years, giving works published between 1923 and 1977 an expanded term of 95 years. Thousands of new works were added to the Public Domain this year on January 1.

Many new books (those from 1923) were added to the Public Domain this year. Among the books added (with a link to where they can be downloaded from) are:

Project Gutenberg, which already had over 58,000 free downloadable books, has added these five titles from 1923:

To get a full picture of what has been added to the Public Domain, check out the article “January 1, 2019 is (finally) Public Domain Day: Works from 1923 are open to all!“.

Do You Have Too Many Unread Books?

Books
Reading – I came across the article “Stop Feeling Guilty About Having So Many Unread Books” a few months ago and thought it had some good ideas worth sharing. In particular, I liked these opening sentences:

Is your bookshelf teeming with more books than you have time to read? Or do your unread books induce feelings of guilt?

If so, you may be practicing the ancient Japanese art of tsundoku, that is, buying more books than you’ll ever read.

Some of the points brought up in the article are:

  • Recognize Reading As A Source Of Learning
  • Read More Than One Business Book At Once
  • Listen To Audiobooks
  • Abandon Bad Books
  • Ask Your Peers For Book Recommendations
  • Create Your Antilibrary

While this article is really looking at books from the viewpoint of business and self-education, much of it can be applied to casual reading. I am not a fan of reading more than one book at a time myself unless one is a technical book. When I try to read more than one novel at a time it just confuses me and I forget what is going on in the novels.

Audiobooks or podcasts are a good idea. I listen to several hours of podcasts each week and as they mention in the article, I have learned to listen at 2x the playback speed. Even with this, I am hundreds of podcasts behind!

I also agree about abandoning bad books or ones I simply do not like. I follow the Rule of 50 with my reading for the most part, though I have to say that I have not had to invoke it too often. Using peer recommendations or reviews on Goodreads will help to eliminate those books you would clearly not like, though some will slip through.

The ‘antilibrary’ or list of yet to be read books is a good idea. I have hundreds on my Kindle, though my ‘to-be-read’ queue is only around 70 books right now. That sounds like a lot, but the past three years I have read more than 130 novels a year.