Friday, January 27, 2023

Writing Twentieth Century Fiction - A guest post by Joanne Easley

I'm delighted today to share a guest post by a local author, Joanne Easley.  I went to an author event in the fall of 2021 where Joanne spoke and also saw her at the writer's conference that I mentioned in late August, 2022.  Please enjoy 'hearing' about Joanne's journey 'writing twentieth century fiction'.  Thank you, Joanne!!


My tagline is “fiction about complicated, 20th Century women.” I yearn for simpler times when instant communication didn’t exist. Young people today will never know the agony of waiting for their sibling to end a long conversation so they could make a call on the wall-mounted rotary-dial phone. They won’t know the thrill of pulling that twenty-five-foot-long cord down the hall to seek a little privacy. How many people remember waiting to receive a hand-written letter from a pen pal or a loved one overseas serving their country? Those days are gone, and unless a writer commemorates those experiences, they will be forgotten.

Because I lived through most of the latter half of the twentieth century, I have personal experience to draw on, although research is also needed for historical accuracy.

And I do like to be accurate. Researching can send me down a rabbit hole, but I never consider the time spent doing it as lost.

Here are my three favorite quotes about research:

“The man is most original who can adapt from the greatest number of resources.” - Thomas Carlyle

“I am a part of all I have read.” -  John Kieran

“The more research you do, the more at ease you are in the world you’re writing about. It doesn’t encumber you; it makes you free.” - A.S. Byatt

My multi-award-winning debut novel, Sweet Jane, begins in 1957 Odessa, Texas. In my research, I was lucky enough to find a blog about life there in the 1950s. I met face-to-face with the blogger and learned a great deal about the setting. For this book, I also had to study the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, life in the Haight in the late 60s, and Austin in the 70s and 80s. Although I lived in Austin in the 90s, I wanted to make certain the details of the earlier Austin timeline were correct. For example, I planned to use the name of my favorite bakery in Sweet Jane but learned it hadn’t opened until a few years after the timeline in the book. That research saved me from an error.

Just One Look, my second novel, takes place in the neighborhood where I grew up on the Southside of Chicago. While the plot is fiction, the setting is historically true. For all my novels, I want the referenced historic events to be precise. The Vietnam war, the 1968 Democrat Convention, and the 27 club—the deaths of iconic rock stars at that age—are just a few of the topics I spent some time investigating. Fashion and music are also themes in my books. One of my favorite fashion sources for this novel is the Sears  Roebuck catalog. As I scrolled through the online version, memories of ordering clothing over the phone, painstakingly reading the lengthy catalog number to the clerk, resurfaced. I even found several outfits I wore back in the day.

While my first two published books are primarily set in the 60s and 70s, I expanded the timeline in I’ll Be Seeing You to 1938-1985. The extra time spent on learning details about life in the thirties, forties, and fifties, both in Texas and Manhattan, was well worth it. As I reviewed World War II history, I came to understand how much I’d forgotten. Several prominent battles in both the European and Pacific theaters had a great impact on the characters in my novel, so it was imperative for me to know the details of those engagements.

The character is the driving force behind my writing. My novels begin with the idea for a protagonist. Novelists are often put into two camps—pantsers and plotters. I am a pantser, which means I allow the character free rein, and the plot emerges from her actions, some of which surprise me. I want my complicated, 20th Century women to have depth, so I must learn everything I can about them. Appearance, quirks, habits, family life, friends, and personality gradually come into focus, and only then can I begin writing about their trying circumstances. My novels deal with real-life problems and cover tough topics such as alcoholism, suicide, and miscarriage.

My talented niece designs my beautiful book covers and brings my characters to life. I am grateful to her.

While I was published with a small press for my first two novels, I did not renew my contracts. This year, I applied the knowledge I gained over the past years and self-published my third novel and re-released my first two under my imprint Red Boots Press, named for Sweet Jane’s love of red cowboy boots. My novels are widely available in eBook and paperback.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Another update from the land of pollen and dust and not much reading...ha!

Hey everyone!  Just thought I would do a quick update here - not that I have too much to talk about at all.

I did want to start out by saying that I will have an author guest post this Friday.  This is a local author that I've seen at a couple of events and she very graciously agreed to share a bit about her writing process.  Her name is Joanne Easley and I invite you all back to 'hear' about her books and 'Writing Twentieth Century Fiction'.

Our floor replacement/renovation is about 60-65% finished.  It will hopefully be completed in the next week or so.  The guys started and did about half the house, but as we are still living here, the other part had to wait until our master bath was finished (which it is except for the mirror).  We had been sleeping/living in the guest room/guest bath area.  Now we are in the other side and, of course, the floor guys had to go do another job in between.  Such is life and job schedules these days.  Also, between the seriously awful cedar pollen (normal in Texas at this time) and the renovation dust, etc., my sinuses are very unhappy.  This too shall pass, but it's been no fun trying to decide if we are having allergies or actually sick with something.  Lots going around.  

My reading has again suffered, but I will hopefully be finished soon with the book that I have kind of stalled on.  I'm progressing, but so, so slowly.  It's Lisa Unger's newest, Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six.  This is an author that I have loved so much.  Her books set in The Hollows of  upstate New York are all so, so good.  Lately, she's been writing standalone books and I haven't read all of them.  This one just hasn't been what I expected.  I'm going to finish, but this is likely all I'll say about my reading experience with it.  Maybe you've read it and loved it.  I know that not every single of my favorite authors will write books that are perfect for me.  Anyway, I'm casting about to find what I might pick up next.  Give me a suggestion or two if you like.  Otherwise, I'll be back soon.

Take care of yourselves and have a good week!     

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

First book of the year, first in-person book group of the year, other updates...

Hello fellow readers!  I'm stopping by for a just a bit to share an update on 2023 in 'kay's world' so far.  Hope all of you have had a good start to the year.  I've finished two books and am trying to decide on my next read, I've attended an in-person book group and sent my thoughts to my 'out-of-town' mystery group on their first read of 2023 and I'm still trying to 'survive' house renovations.  Ha!

My first book this year was The Rose Code by Kate Quinn.  It was also the book selected for the January meeting of the 'Historical Fiction' Book Group I attend here.  I really, really liked it.  I'm determined to read more of this author's books.  I do have several on my Kindle or I can get them at the library.  The book group was pleased with the book and we had a great discussion.  I think everyone liked it and some, like me, loved it.  We talked about Bletchley Park and also about other aspects of 1940's England and wartime that are included in it.  There are three main characters and each woman, Osla, Beth, and Mab, have a different approach to life, but they all get assigned to Bletchley Park and share their gifts in helping out their country during the war.  I believe they were all based on real women and it was clear that Kate Quinn had done a huge amount of research for her story.  If you haven't read this book, I recommend it.  If you have, what did you think?  The 'Historical Fiction' group will read The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi for February.  Looking forward to it!  

The 'Mystery Book Group - Austin' that I attended for so many years is also one that I am planning to read along with.  We had several members who moved from Austin to other places and several kept up with our reading and sent their thoughts each month.  That is my plan as well.  The January book read was The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz.  I read it at the end of 2022 and gave Gayle (the new leader) my reactions to share.  I liked it OK-ish.  The protagonist and his inner thoughts got on my nerves a bit.  He seemed more 'well-balanced' than he actually was.  In this book, Jacob Finch Bonner is an author that teaches creative writing for a MFA program.  One of his students shares a bit about a book he is working on and informs Jacob that he doesn't need his help as a teacher.  After a few years, Jacob hears that the student has died and the book apparently was never published.  Jacob decides to tweak the plot a bit and write that story himself.  It goes great and Jacob is famous and then he gets a message 'You are a thief'.  Gayle wrote a blog post about the group meeting and discussion here - take a look and see what you think.  The 'Mystery Book Group - Austin' is reading The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb for February.  I'm looking forward to it!  

I also recently finished Stacy Willingham's new book, All The Dangerous Things.  It came out officially yesterday, but I had an early release copy from Book Of The Month and enjoyed reading it as my second book of 2023.  I liked her debut book, A Flicker In The Dark, last year.  The author had a lot of praise for that first effort and I think people will like this second one too.  Isabelle Drake's son, Mason, was taken from his bed in the night a year ago and has not been found.  She doesn't sleep at all or not much.  She can't.  She needs to find her son.  The police investigation has stalled and Isabelle is invited to be on a true crime podcast to share her story.  Who can Isabelle trust?  Anyone?  I'll be watching to see if others read this one and what their thoughts are.


Lastly, regular life is progressing.  By that I mean, home renovations are still progressing.  Slowly.  Slowly.  The guys that are replacing all the floors have been here this week and gotten started on that aspect.  Most other things are finished or close to being finished.  One day, I'll check in here and say that all is done.  Maybe.  Hopefully.  Ha!!  Have a good week, everyone!

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Happy New Year! Can you believe it's 2023?


Wishing all my book friends a very Happy New Year!  My hope is that your days will be full of joy and peace and contentment and love.  And books - can't forget the books!  Let's have some great reading this year, OK?  I intend to try.  Oh, and my 'word' for 2023 is JOY!  That was my word for 2016 and I've decided to try to focus on that one again.  Here's a bit about what I wrote that year regarding my JOY quest...


The definition of JOY according to Merriam-Webster is this:

1.  the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune
2.  a state of happiness or felicity
3.  a source or cause of delight

Well, no offense to Merriam-Webster, but I don't think happiness or a constant state of that is required to experience JOY.  I also think that JOY can be something that comes in short bursts or even pin pricks.  And I think that sometimes, it must be searched for, sought out, almost tripped over.  That is how it has been for me, especially in those times where it was hard to find - those darker days.

I want to share two quotes that come from books written by Louise Penny, a favorite author of mine.  The first illustrates how I feel that JOY comes to us.  It's from her book, How The Light Gets In, and is a quote that was originally written by Leonard Cohen.  He graciously gave Louise permission to use it.

There is a crack in everything.  That's how the light gets in.

I think of JOY as that light.  And all of us have 'cracks' in our lives, our personalities, our ways of doing things.  In order to appreciate JOY best, we need those cracks - those life experiences that may not be the most pleasant - that indeed may be filled with grief and sorrow.

The second phrase comes from The Long Way Home and it is repeated over and over in that book:


Surprised by joy...

My goal for 2023 - to search for JOY every single day.  No matter what life brings me.  And to consciously attempt to share this elusive thing with others.  Every single day.  So that they might recognize that we can all be 'surprised by joy'.