Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Three Quick Book Reviews

This year is flying by, and work is keeping me far too busy to read for pleasure as much as I'd like... However, I have read a few excellent books already in 2016.
The top three so far:

 Casualties by Elizabeth Marro. I had the pleasure of hearing this author speak at SCWC and, intrigued by her intelligence and wit, picked the book up immediately; I devoured it in a couple of days and would have finished it sooner, if I could have rearranged life so that I could sit and read all day. Marro is as brilliant on the page as she is in person, and I found myself highlighting passages in the book, purely for their beauty. Don't get me wrong, this novel is as hard-hitting and painful as the effect of war on human souls must be, and will make you weep unless you're made of stone. But gorgeous writing, real-as-life characters, and even moments of dark humor—yeah, it's all in there.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. The author of this dual narrative YA novel breaks some rules, all to excellent effect. I'm sure I am not the first person to think "How did she know that about me?" while reading it. The publisher says this 2013 book "is the first young adult novel written by Rainbow Rowell." Trust me, most people would be happy to have written one book this good... Now I want to read her other books, too.  The book was briefly banned—for being too realistic about sex, I think. Sigh. Now there's a movie in the works.

The Wave by Susan Casey. The subtitle pretty much says it all: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean. This non-fiction book is as gripping as any thriller, and just as hard to put down. My husband Russel and I seldom love the same book, since his taste runs to hardcore non-fiction, but this book kept us both up nights. The globe-trotting Casey is a genius at distilling pertinent facts, and various expert's knowledge into digestible nuggets, all wrapped in colorful, compelling prose. I also recommend her book about dolphins, Voices in the Ocean.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Seven Ways Sailing is like Writing

I've been sailing, and living aboard a sailboat, for most of the last 27 years. I'm also a writer, and have worked at some combination of writing, editing, publishing, and teaching writing for the last 18 years. So, I know a little bit about both pursuits. And I think that...

Sailing is like writing because:

You need a destination, but often the best part of the voyage happens when you get off course—assuming you don't end up on the rocks. 

Getting there is not just half the fun, it's all the fun; sailing is about enjoying the moment, here and now, not rushing toward some arbitrary goal (if you were in a rush, you'd have a power boat).

It's something people all over the world have been doing for thousands of years, in order to explore, learn, and reach out—and it's still fun!

Most people think it's easy, even if they've never done it (Wish I had a dollar for every time someone said, "Gosh, that must be such a fun life, traveling and living on a boat").

Those who don't sail don't "get" it—and that's okay. It's impossible to explain what's so darn great about it, if you don't experience it yourself, in just the right way.

It's enviable, but somehow people still think they could easily do it, too, if they just had the time...

Lastly, sailing, like writing, uses your body and mind for an activity that often taxes them, but combines and unites them in ways that can sometimes be transcendent—allowing us to glimpse what is eternal and true.  

hasta pronto!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

August McLaughlin and her "Embraceable" New Book: My Q&A with August

This month's blog post is a Q&A with author August McLaughlin, as part of a blog tour for her book, Embraceable. August McLaughlin is an award-winning, nationally recognized health and sexuality writer and host and creator of Girl Boner®. August is a public speaker, radio host, and journalist who uses her artistry to inspire other women to embrace their bodies and selves, making way for fuller, more authentic lives.
   The new book, Embraceable: Empowering Facts and True Stories About Women’s Sexuality, is a celebration of women’s sensuality, and deals with body image, among other diverse topics. August and I hit it off right away, since I grew up with serious body image issues—my mom's constant fight with weight affected my own budding self image, then I went into acting and got dangerously "brainwashed" into body dysmorphia by the "industry" before becoming a happy, healthy, curvy writer-editor. By the way, Body dysmorphia means you can't stop thinking about a minor (or imagined) flaw in your appearance.

I admire August's activism, enthusiasm, and passion, so I invited her to JennyRedbug to chat a bit. Here are my questions and her answers:

1.  The contributors to your new book, "Embraceable" are all ages, and I'll bet that they are every size and shape, too. Why are we so eager to limit the "acceptable size" that women should be?

The pressure on women to appear a certain way is an age-old problem, fueled by the sexism that's engrained in our culture—women being perceived as subservient trophies, versus capable equals —and perpetuated by big business. The diet, fashion, and entertainment industries are some of the largest and most influential in the world. Sadly, too many companies profit from women's insecurities.
    I’m really grateful for the body-positive movement that’s happening, but there’s a long way to go. We need to see more people of all ages, shapes, sizes and races in fashion and film, for example.

2. I know you have a history of dealing with body-image issues and body dysmorphia, in yourself and others...Do you still find yourself struggling with society's idea of what you should be/wear/look like?

I was very dysmorphic from very early on, around age five, well into my twenties. One major benefit of moving fully past a severe eating disorder, and all the hard work it required, is that I no longer place excess value on aesthetics—my own or others'. (Eating disorders typically aren’t about weight or looks, at their root, but they end up shifting your values in hugely damaging ways.) I wish more women reached the emotional place such recovery provides, without the hellishness of the illness.
    While I'd say the body image struggles are behind me, I still have occasional moments of self-criticism. When they arise, I remind myself that accepting myself as I am—“flaws” and all—sends a positive message to others. The world needs every good example. I look to women I admire, who don’t prize looks, for inspiration. Then I intentionally focus elsewhere, on what matters.

3. You love the word "authenticity"...what does that word mean to you, as far as women and their bodies?

Authenticity from a body image perspective means not attempting to fulfill someone else’s idea of what you should look like. It means loving, respecting, and accepting your body as it is, rather than fighting it—even (or especially) when doing so is hard.

4. I struggled so long with learning to love my (curvy) body, as an actress and performer. I wish I'd known then how good it feels to live in a body you're not trying to change/hide/erase. What do you wish you could tell your teenage self about her body?

I’d tell her that she’s wrong about her body, more than her body, and that she's 100-percent lovable and embraceable—no changes required. And because I know she’d roll her eyes and tune me out (ha), I’d also tell her that the road ahead isn’t going to be easy, but she’s going to make it through. Oh, and diet pills? Not a good idea.

5. What have you heard from readers of "Embraceable" about the chapters where you describe your struggles with anorexia? I would think that young women would respond to reading about that.

I’m just beginning to hear from readers, which has been moving. Women who’ve written me about my struggles with anorexia have been of a range of ages. I think it’s a struggle many can relate to on some level. Anorexia encompasses near universal issues: feeling unworthy, fighting yourself and your body, feeling broken and alone, food and weight challenges, addiction.

6. What would you like to say to young people, who are learning from the media, their peers—and perhaps their parents—to judge others by how they look?

Don’t listen. Live with curiosity and passion and wonder. Seek and pursue ventures that bring you joy and a sense of purpose. Cultivate your talents and surround yourself with people who love you for who you are, not your jeans' size. Spend time in nature. Remind yourself that you’re an extraordinary being who can choose to put her energy into bettering herself and the world.

Read more about August's new book on her site; you may purchase a copy of Embraceable at Amazon or Barnes &
hasta pronto!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Five Books I Highly Recommend

It’s time for me to list five books I loved in 2015. As always, I leave off the bestsellers—those ten titles you’ve read about ten times in the last ten weeks of top ten books lists. (After all, no one needs to hear anymore about Girl on the Train or Purity—though I thought they were brilliant!) I tried to keep it to works published in 2015, but made exceptions for The End of the Sherry and Good Sam as they were published within the last two years.

I am also, as always, not including on this list the books I edited in 2015, but I cannot help but mention some of the excellent books I help to bring to the world—like Fourteen: A Daughter's Memoir of Adventure, Sailing, and Survival, by Leslie Johansen Nack. I found Nack’s memoir an absolute pleasure to dive into, again and again. I am pleased that the book has garnered excellent reviews and that Leslie enjoyed the process of working with me—she actually wrote about the editing process here, in a short piece in Writer's Digest.

Another book I edited is Soil-Man by Oz Monroe. This book is much harder to describe than it is to recommend. When I was done with the final editing on the book, I told Oz, “Soil-Man is ready for the world, but is the world ready for it?” The dark fantasy is not for the faint of heart—or stomach—but, if you are not afraid to question your own faith, you’ll definitely enjoy this gritty, black-comic tale of an average man beset by avenging angels. The book is comes out in January, but it’s available now for pre-order.

Here’s my "top five" list, in no particular order:

1. A great choice to gift to others (you can get one, too!) is Embraceable: Empowering Facts and True Stories About Women’s Sexuality by August McLaughlin. There’s more than eighteen reasons to recommend it, one for each of the authors, including “Girl Boner” founder and radio host August McLaughlin herself. The pieces deal with body image, self-love, female empowerment, and sexuality in diverse and inclusive ways. You must know a young woman (of any age) who could benefit from reading this book.

2. Everyone who knows me knows I love visiting Mexico, and this year I went “south of the border” in a superior and eclectic new anthology Mexico: Sunlight & Shadows: Short Stories & Essays by Mexico Writers (the list is long and you’d probably recognize some of the names). There’s definitely something for everyone in this collection of short pieces, which include fiction and non-fiction, set in Mexican locations far and wide. (It’s available on Kindle for $2.99 right now.)

3. Good Sam by Dete Meserve, is a novel about our media culture and television reporting that avoids all the tired cliches while still fulfilling every expectation. And you don’t think the world is such a terrible place after reading this book —unlike the aftereffect of reading most novels that deal with crime and criminals—and those who hunt them down. And, the ebook is currently only 99 cents! 

4. The Black Velvet Coat by Jill G. Hall is a debut novel that feels so assured you just fall right into the story. The author skillfully weaves together two women's lives: one, a young artist in contemporary times, the other, a young heiress in the 1960s. The book is not easy to define, as there are elements of mystery and suspense, but most importantly, The Black Velvet Coat is what literary fiction (and all fiction) should be, and often is not—entertaining. 

5. Those lucky enough to be familiar with Bruce Berger’s writing (Almost an Island, The Telling Distance, There Was a River) won’t be surprised to hear that his memoir The End of the Sherry is a compelling, gorgeously written book. Those who believe they don’t like memoir should give this a try. The character of Berger’s twenty-something self—untethered to job or family, who finds himself in Franco’s Spain in the mid-sixties—felt as familiar as a long-lost friend. His down-to-earth story transported me, thrilled me, and made me laugh.

Now, get thee to a bookseller. Or a library. Or click the links to purchase the books on Amazon. Enjoy your end-of-the-year reading and the holidays...
hasta pronto!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Building, and improving on, great sentences

      Recently, on the Southern California Writers Conference Facebook page, I asked the group which of the following sentences was more compelling:
"She looked at the burnt shell of the house she'd once lived in, remembering how she'd once played dolls on the porch and swung on the tire swing."
"Looking at the burnt shell of the house she'd once lived in, she remembered how she had once played dolls on the porch and swung on the tire swing."
"That burnt shell was a house she'd once lived in—played dolls on the porch, swung on the tire swing."
       The group agreed with me, almost unanimously, that the third choice was the clearer and most powerful sentence of the short list. And, no, I don't think any of the sentences are brilliant, they were written by me to prove a point.
       I also posted the question on on my group page (still in beta) of writers that aspire to write great memoirs and adventure travel books and essays—if you want to join tsu, click here
       The point of this exercise was to show that writers use too many "filter words" like "look" or "looked," and too many "thought verbs" like "remember" and "remembered" in crafting their sentences—the building blocks of all writing. These filter words and thought verbs only serve to set us apart from the action of our stories.
        For more on filter words and "filtering" click here for a short piece on Scribophile, and for more on thought verbs, read my posts here on JennyRedbug or read this tough-love post by Chuck Palahniuk.
        Writing is a craft, and writing well takes hard work. And the more work you do on removing words that don't help your story—words that are not visual, visceral, and clear—the less work an editor will have to do to help your story succeed.
        Why do I want writers to self-edit their writing better, thereby making less work for me? Because then I can, as a content editor, concentrate on their manuscript's story structure, and, when line-editing, on finding small errors and typos that might otherwise be missed. There is never enough time to look at a manuscript before it is published!
         If you are interested in improving your craft as a writer, I would suggest that you join a writer's group—if you can't find one, start one. Also, you can attend SCWC at their two yearly conferences (in San Diego and Irvine), and join me on my tsu group. I hope you will keep following this humble blog, as well.
         hasta pronto!