TOO MANY BOOKS TO READ BEFORE I SLEEP – Marilyn Armstrong

Half a dozen times during the past few months, I’ve seen the sunrise and heard the birds wake and sing the morning in.

Another Kindle and the Anker blue-tooth speaker.

I have sometimes gotten up very early to see the sunrise and take pictures. It is the thing I do that is most “me.” I am awake into the early hours because I am in the grip of a good book and can’t put it down.

I’m addicted to books.

Although I go through phases where I read a lot of one genre, I move through many genres over the course of time. I have spent years reading history, indulging my enthusiasm for the middle ages and especially that weirdest of times,  the 14th century. Perhaps I am specifically fascinated by this period because it was a fulcrum of civilization, the emergence of central governments, a free peasantry and what ultimately became the middle class.

There was the Black Death, the schism when two Popes reigned, one in Avignon, the other in Rome: a calamity for the Catholic world. There was an endless war. Brigands roaming throughout the European countryside, burning, raping, despoiling.  Destroying what sad remnants of communities had survived the other catastrophes of those years.

Inflation rendered money worthless. Many regions were entirely depopulated leaving no one to tend fields and grow crops. Famine followed.

I thought the 20th century, with all its horrors, could never top the 14th, but I was wrong. Because the 14th-century didn’t destroy the planet. It merely thinned out humanity. Which might not, on second thought, have been such a bad idea.

In this era, we are busy destroying the actual planet on which we live and which we need to survive as a species. If you’ve been reading too much science fiction, this is a good time to remember that this sphere is the only one we’ve got. We have nascent technology that might eventually take us into the universe where new planets might be waiting, but we aren’t there yet nor will we get there before the bad air and fire destroys everything we care about.

Meanwhile, to keep my sanity, I read thrillers, mysteries, police procedurals, and courtroom dramas. I read about lawyers, district attorneys, victims, criminals, and prisons. Then, when I need to escape even further, I turn to science fiction and fantasy. I immerse myself in other worlds, different realities, and the pursuit of magic.

I am, for the moment, caught between favorite authors. All of my favorite writers are in the writing process, creating their next books, though some are finished and publication dates are set in the near or not too far future.

I thought I’d make a shortlist for you of some of my favorite authors and a few of my favorite books. I encourage you to make suggestions for books I might like. I’m always looking for new authors and genres.

Barbara Tuchman is my favorite writer of history, but Doris Kearns Goodwin is close behind. Favorite history books include A Distant Mirror, The Guns of Augustand Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Team of Rivals which became Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln,” or her equally brilliant work on Franklin Delano Roosevelt No Ordinary Time are masterpieces.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraha...

The entire Hollows series by Kim Harrison for the finest of the urban fantasy genre. She has a new one coming out this summer. I can hardly wait!

Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, the Chicago gumshoe who can throw a mean spell, but carries a loaded gun, just in case. He has finally written the final book in the series called Peace Talks.

I hope it isn’t really the final book because I have rarely loved a series as much as I’ve loved Harry Dresden. It’s set to come out in July.

I have been waiting for this book for almost eight years. It is already considered a best-seller even though it hasn’t been published yet. I guess I’m not the only one who has been waiting.

Connie Willis‘ time travel books including The Doomsday Book, Blackout, All Clear, and To Say Nothing of the Dog (the only humorous one in this bunch, but they are all wonderful!) are among the best books of this genre ever written. She has also written some of the most hilarious science fiction stories, especially All Seated on the Ground, and Bellwether, and many more novels and novellas.

Unlike most readers, I read her more serious ambitious books first and was surprised to discover she was best known for her lighter, humorous fiction. Both are wonderful and you can’t go wrong with any of them. I should mention that some of her older books are only available on Kindle and/or audio.

And, speaking of time travel, Stephen King‘s 11-22-63 is exceptional. It’s not a new book, but it is beautifully well-written. Not a horror story, but true time-travel science fiction. The prose is sometimes so beautiful it brings tears to your eyes.

Recently, I discovered Carol Berg. I completed the final of her various series last night … and am now holding my breath in anticipation of her next book. If you want to start with one of her books that aren’t part of a longer series, try Song of the Beast, especially if you like dragons!

I love almost everything written by James Lee Burke and he has written many books, all fiction. If Faulkner had written detective stories, he’d be James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series is a long-running favorite, but his other books are great too.

The writing of Anne Golon is an amazing series of historical novels about a fictional woman named Angelique. They take place during the time of Louis XIV. This series is has been one of the most significant influences on my life, not only literary but personally.  Angelique lived the life she chose and never accepted defeat. She gave me an interest in history that I carry with me to this day. She never gave up, she never backed down, no matter how bad things became, she always found a way forward.

The English-language versions of the books are many years out of print, but until her death a couple of years ago, she was still writing. Unfortunately, her recent ones are available only in French (maybe German too, but I’m not sure). I have managed to find many good copies of her books second-hand. I wish I could get her newer books in a language I can read. There was a time when I actually could read French, but that was long ago and far away.

I would be remiss in not mentioning Laurie King whose modern version of Sherlock Holmes, now retired and married to, as Mom used to say “a nice Jewish girl,” is a fantastic series. She writes a few other series too, but her Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series remains my favorite.

Of course, there is my personal favorite author, Gretchen Archer, whose Davis Way Crime Capers are funny, serious, hilarious, tense … all of the things you want in a “curl up and read until your eyes fall out of your head” series of novels. Start with her first novel, Double Whammy and move on from there. You absolutely can’t go wrong!

96-ColdDays-2

I cannot close this without referencing two authors that have given me great joy, the incomparable Douglas Adams, and Jasper Fforde.

I still mourn Douglas Adams. He should have had many more years. Douglas, you died way too soon. Jasper Fforde writes with similar lunacy in a fantasy world where fiction is real and reality isn’t quite. His Thursday Next series is brilliant.

Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series is wonderful and if he ever gets around to it, there should be at least one more book in the series. But he has been writing other books — mostly horror stories which I don’t like as much as his earlier works, movie scripts — as well as Lucifer (a series of brilliant graphic novels which contained the original idea for the TV series “Lucifer”).

This doesn’t even begin to cover everything. It would take me days to begin to remember everything … and way more pages than anyone would have the patience to read … but this is a tickler for you. Maybe you too are searching for something fresh to read,  and new worlds to discover.

These are some of my favorite authors. I’d love to hear about yours!

THE DEATH KNELL OF GREAT AMERICAN LITERATURE – Marilyn Armstrong

Many (maybe most) manuscripts are never are “trendy” or popular enough for today’s publishers. As far as publishers go, no matter how well-written or interesting the plot or characters are if it isn’t a genre they sell, it doesn’t exist.

A Kindle and a speaker for listening to audiobooks

Many genres do not fit in any publisher’s predetermined categories. This is not only true for beginners to the field but is equally true for those who have published — successfully published — eight or nine books, including more than one bestseller. Publishers want their authors to keep writing what they wrote before and not veer from it. They also don’t want to pay real money. Or provide publicity, advertisements, or even a professional proofreader.

I’m not making this up.

I know several well-published popular authors who fell out of favor because they wanted to try something different. They weren’t less good at writing, but publishers want books by an author to be the same as the previous one. The one that sold well. If this is something new, then they do not want it.

They also don’t like first manuscripts from mature people because they want nice young authors who will be able to churn out books for a long time and not be stopped by getting old. I also know a number of these authors, too.

I worked in publishing back when all the books being published weren’t “niche” books. When a relatively rough manuscript could get someone’s attention (back when people read manuscripts, not software), and it was the job of editors to help fix manuscripts and turn something rough into a gem. Long before “Kindle” and free publication, they had already thinned the ranks of editors to nearly nothing — and decided the author should do the work the publisher used to do.

In part, this accounts for the many atrocious books they actually DO publish and the good books they ignore. It isn’t only the author’s failure to recognize what the publisher wants. It’s that publishers no longer want to help authors get published.

What was art is now “just business.”

Does anyone think Hemingway, Faulkner, or Thomas Wolfe would have gotten published without their editor’s help? Maxwell Perkins — ever heard of him? Because he was “the man.” Without him, half of America’s great literature wouldn’t exist. Were they less brilliant because they weren’t good editors — or didn’t have the financial means to hire a quality editor? Nope. They were what they were but the industry is entirely different.

Publishers refuse to admit it is really a business issue. It’s not art. It’s business, politics, and aiming books at what they perceive are their target audiences, ignoring all other potential audiences. It was not always like this and I was working in the business when it was not like this.

Everyone is very busy blaming someone else for the state of the business. It’s the Internet, or Amazon or “nobody reads books anymore.” None of them ever looks in a mirror and says “Maybe our failure to help authors work out problems with their manuscripts, give them some decent publicity and help them make some real money is at least in part OUR responsibility too?” It’s true that fewer people seem to read now than did when I was growing up, yet most people do read at least sometimes.

The publishing world is undergoing a huge transformation and we are in the middle of it. How it will end? I don’t know. But just because publishers say what they say, you don’t need to believe every corporate word they utter.

You can write the most glorious, delicious book ever written for whatever genre for which you write and no publishing house will so much as read it, much less publish it. Why? Because it doesn’t fit into their (usually) very short list of “the types of books we publish.” That, to me, is the death knell for great American literature. It leaves no room for the unique or unusual.

This may not be true in other countries. I don’t know. I do know this market.

If only the “tried and true” can get published, the unique and possibly brilliant will never have a chance.

MINIMALIST PUBLISHING – Marilyn Armstrong

Why do publishers ONLY publish potential best-sellers? Many books we read from in those old days were not wildly popular. Publishers understood a good book deserved publication, even if it wouldn’t be a bestseller. Our literature would be a very poor place if we only published the most popular genres.

It’s true I don’t read every kind of book anymore, but I did when I was younger. I did when I was a kid and right through most of my adulthood. Only during the past few years has my taste become more specific.

I read all of Dostoyevsky in one year. Aside from never remembering anyone’s’ name, I mostly enjoyed them. I couldn’t read them now — too gloomy — but when I was 15? It was great stuff! I’m also pretty sure none of those books ever made anyone’s bestseller list. Can you imagine Proust topping the best-seller list? Or Gorky?

All writers wrote more and less popular material. Not everyone likes every book or every genre, but that ought not to be the only reason a book gets published. It’s depressing for writers and very off-putting for those who have written GOOD books and know that there isn’t a publisher on earth who wants it because it isn’t in one of their “niche” areas.

When I worked at Doubleday, we published anything that was reasonably well-written. We had more than a dozen book clubs that catered to specialized audiences as well as two generic clubs. I ran (they made me do it) two libraries: American Garden Guild (I learned a lot about plants!) and Doubleday Romance Library. To this day I know more ways to say “fell in love” than you can shake a stick at.

None of this stuff had to be bestseller material. It had an audience. The major point of book clubs what we knew there was an audience for just about everything, so we published for everyone. From military book clubs to science fiction and crime, if you wanted to read it, Doubleday published it and probably had a book club dedicated to it, too.

Many books were published because a real, live human editor felt it was worth the paper and ink.

Today, if you aren’t writing something the company’s editorial software thinks is “hot,” no human editor will so much as look at it, much less publish it.

Which is why writers end up with a boxful of computer-generated rejections. The computer scanned it, didn’t find the right buzz words, and threw it away. I finally had ONE editor willing to look at my book … and — this is true — he died a few days before he got to it.

I gave up. Not that I wrote anything really great, but it was worth at least a read or two.

My collection of Gretchen Archer’s books and cup, if you please

It really is going to be a sad batch of literature we leave to the next generation. Good thing there are still books from earlier years to read. So many great writers will never publish or will self-publish and no one will notice them.

Okay, this is my rant of the day. It worries me that so few writers get properly published. Excellent writers are rare beasts and deserve notice. Deserve publication. And all good writers deserve to have at least one hardcover book that comes with the delicious smell of ink fresh from the press.

The “Halloween Fun – Get Your Spook On” Weekend Blog Tour – @WendyJayneScott #RRBC #RWISA

Bette Stevens works incredibly hard to promote indie authors. She does GREAT work too on trying to help save the Monarch butterfly.

Bette A. Stevens, Maine Author

Welcome to the “HALLOWEEN FUN – GET YOUR SPOOK ON” Weekend Blog Tour!

13 Spooky Writing Prompts to ignite your imagination.
Bats and cats, owls and howls, trick-or-treat, hosts and ghosts.
Kids, have fun this Halloween by creating spooky stories to scare your family and friends.

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Giveaways
(3) Amazon eBook copies of any of the Aspiring Author Series (Winner’s choice)

Leave a comment below and/or along any stop along the tour for your chance to win!

Halloween—Witch’s Familiar

In European folklore and folk-belief of the Medieval and Early Modern periods, familiar spirits (sometimes referred to simply as “familiars” or “animal guides”) were believed to be supernatural entities that would assist witches and cunning folk in their practice of magic. According to the records of the time, they would appear in numerous guises, often as an animal.

The main purpose of familiars is to serve the witch or young…

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SO MARTHA ASKED, “CAN YOU ENFORCE IT?” – Marilyn Armstrong

Wednesday RDP – COPYRIGHT

Martha wrote a little piece this morning titled “Can You Enforce it? (and Rambling Nonsense) by Martha Ann Kennedy. It’s good reading. Pretty much everything Martha writes is good reading, even when I don’t agree but especially when she waxes lyrical and I feel I’m in Grammarian Heaven.

In this case, much of the post is about getting a copyright on your book. Government and other versions of copyright are almost free or very cheap, so we pretty much all get one. Because just in case someone wants to make our little book into a major motion picture (BILLIONS at the box office, or maybe TRILLIONS) — or even a very minor one ($1500, opened at two movies nationwide and went to cable where it is rarely seen), it would be nice to get a bit of whatever money might accrue.

Most books don’t make much money. Some make a lot, but the number of authors whose books make oodles of money can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Even well-published authors who can count an occasional bestseller in their collection usually need another job. I don’t know if it’s the terrible contracts we sign. Authors are not contract lawyers. I often think our contract lawyers are also not contract lawyers. Their degrees were bought and paid for on the Internet. The cheap kind on which they misspell the name of the university.

I commented how I copyrighted my book as if someone was likely to steal it. Meanwhile, publishers, producers, TV moguls, and the staff of Saturday Night Live steal ideas from people who interview for the show (I know a few of them) or steal the writing of living and sometimes rather well-known authors. They don’t pay anything for the work, so while they are raking in the big bucks, authors can barely pay rent.

The original French Angelique

Anne Golon spent a lifetime fighting to get some of the money from the widely published set of books titled “Angelique.” She kept writing them, too and was still writing when she died last year. She also finally won her lawsuit over her publisher (French courts). By then, she was well into her 90s and had been fighting for her ownership rights for more than half a century.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s books were stolen by everyone and printed by everyone everywhere for decades. I remember when I read them in the 1960s — while I was having my back fused, so I had plenty of time — there was a whole chapter at the beginning of the book saying that unless you could read this section, you were reading a hijacked copy of the book. Of course, if you were reading a hijacked copy, there was no page to read, so you’d never know it anyway.

His son, Simon Tolkien (J.R.R. was long gone by then) recovered the copyrights, got some kind of payment from whatever publishers still existed.

American version

All four of Shirley Jackson’s children spent much of their lives fighting for her rights. They won — maybe twenty years ago? — and now you actually have to pay to buy her books, which I do gladly because she was brilliant and is credited by many authors (including Stephen King) as one of the authors whose work lighted their way.

ALL of these books were copyrighted, for whatever good it did. The theory of big corporations is (1) they have a lot of money while (2) you, the author,  don’t. (3) Even though you legitimately own the rights to the book (which may have been previously published under your name and they are stealing the book AND your name), whatcha gonna do about it, eh?

Funny how rigid the copyrights of corporations are and how flimsy are those of authors, composers, et al, isn’t it? There’s a book about how this applies in the music industry, called YEAR ZERO, a novel by Rob Reid which I have read a few times and written about. It never stops making me laugh and cry. It’s science fiction, but with footnotes. It’s available in print, Kindle, and as an audiobook. I recommend all of them.

As the final thought in her post today, Martha points out that most of us can’t run and would make a tasty snack for any large predator. Here, in charming Uxbridge, we have acquired black bears. We are supposed to call the cops if one shows up in our driveway, probably heading for our trash can, which bears refer to as “brunch.” I assume that our two police officers (it might be one and a half, I’m not sure) will try to shoot the bears being as even counting the trash, there’s not enough for a bunch of hungry bears to eat. But maybe they can fish in the Blackstone? There are trout, I’m told.

I personally think I’m the kind of person who would make a light snack for a bear lacking hunting energy. I don’t think I’d be particularly tasty. Too old and stringy.

BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS

EVOKING IDEAS, EVOKING DREAMS – BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS


Seriously, I don’t understand how it happened. I don’t have a job. I am definitely, absolutely 100% retired. Yet — I’m always busy!

It’s probably all the reading. In recent months, there have been publications of great books by some of my favorite authors, many of whom hadn’t released a new one in quite a while.

You know I absolutely had to read them. Immediately!

There were two new books and a short story by Jodi Taylor, “The Something Girl,” and “The Rest is History.” book 8 of her St. Mary’s time travel series. Both were great. I’m crazy about the time travel books. Sometimes I need a “time travel fix” and listen to them again.

Then, “Mary Russell’s War: And Other Stories of Suspense” was released — a whole bunch of short stories about Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes. “The Furthest Station: A PC Peter Grant Novella” by Ben Aaronovitch was released and while it wasn’t as long as the other books, it was a day of reading.

Somewhere in there I also read the last three Michael Connelly books, two about Harry Bosch and another new one for another L.A. cop. The new Bosch stories are narrated by Titus Welliver, who plays Harry Bosch on the Amazon series, so it’s not just any old book. You can watch the series — or the movie — in your head and the right guy is the star.

I stumbled across “Strange Practice” by Vivian Shaw which is the kind of book you sincerely hope is the start of a new series. It was way too good to be a onefer! It’s about Dr. Greta Helsing who specializes in a  medical practice for treating the undead. Great book and I hope it is followed by many more!

And then, Craig Johnson came out with a new Walt Longmire book — best one in quite a while — and there was Dan Brown’s “Origins” and Peter Clines’ “The Fold” and  Neal Shusterman’s “Scythe” … and finally, to finish me off, the long-awaited “Robicheaux” by James Lee Burke. It has been a few years since his last Dave Robicheaux story and this was a honey. Simultaneously, up came this new book about Trump, “Fire and Fury” and …

You know? I just realized why I’m so busy.

As you may have realized, I’m a listener rather than a text reader. I started listening to audiobooks when I was commuting long distances. I got so into the habit of listening … and very much out of the habit of focusing on text … that I pretty much always listen and very rarely read. I do read a few things because they aren’t available as audiobooks and I want to read them … or I’m committed to reading them. To be fair, though, I love listening. It’s like watching a long movie in your head. It’s better than movies, really.

It’s definitely the books. And that isn’t all of my list, either. There are at least a dozen more still waiting for me to get to them.

I’m in the middle of “Fire and Fury” right now. Curiosity won on this book … but really, I just can’t resist a good book!

THE MOST POPULAR POSTS OF 2017

These are not necessarily my favorite posts, though a few are. These are posts that got a lot of hits — and are not reblogs. I also — with one exception — didn’t include photo-only posts. It was too much like comparing pineapples to raspberries.

DESCENDING FROM THE GOLDEN HORDE – B+ AND ME – MARILYN ARMSTRONG  – Hanging around since 2013, suddenly, in 2017, it took off. No idea why.

THE 7-DAY BLACK & WHITE CHALLENGE- DAY 7 – I haven’t included any other photo blogs, but this one took me by surprise. It is the most popular single picture I’ve ever posted.

NATIONAL ASSHOLE AWARENESS DAY – A multi-year winner because everyone knows a few assholes. I didn’t write this. I created a better insignia and cleaned it up, but I have no idea who really wrote it. It’s one of those things that goes around.

WHERE DO THE SWANS GO? – MARILYN ARMSTRONG – I wrote this in May 2012. Apparently a lot of people wonder where the swans go. The answer is, nowhere. They shiver and sometimes, freeze.

DON’T DRINK THE KOOL-AID – THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE –  MARILYN ARMSTRONG Written in 2012, rewritten each year since, usually on the anniversary of the event (November 18). it’s still worth a read. This is one of the few posts I’ve written which maybe deserves the attention. If I added the numbers for all its versions of publication, this one is probably the most popular post of all time for Serendipity.

INHERIT THE WIND AND THE SCOPES TRIAL – MARILYN ARMSTRONG – I wrote this in 2012. No one paid any attention to it. THIS year, because our political landscape has so altered, it got suddenly popular. It’s not about my writing. It is about Spencer Tracey’s amazing performance with a script largely based on the actual Scopes Trial. If you have never seen the movie — the original with Spencer Tracey — see it. It occurred more than 100 years ago and it might as well be right now.

WE WERE ALL SUCH GOOD FRIENDS – GARRY ARMSTRONG 

REMEMBERING MOM ON HER 100TH BIRTHDAY – GARRY ARMSTRONG 

TIME TRAVEL, PARALLEL UNIVERSES & THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT – ELLIN CURLEY

A VERY HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY, AUNT HELEN! BY TOM CURLEY

PORN POWER – TOM CURLEY How pornography has pushed technology.

CHICAGO “NOW” BY RICH PASCHALL

NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO TALK ABOUT GUN CONTROL … REALLY!? – BY TOM CURLEY

BASEBALL: INTERVIEW WITH LYNN NOVICK – SEPTEMBER 1998 – I wrote it in 1998 and it was published in a very short-lived magazine on Martha’s Vineyard. I was digging through my old stories from before blogging and thought, “Hey, that was pretty good. Why don’t I publish it?” So I did.

TOO EARLY TO BE DRINKING? – GARRY ARMSTRONG

FLY THE W – RICH PASCHALL

A FACE-TIME FUNERAL – BY ELLIN CURLEY

YOU’RE NOT A MAN, YOU’RE A CHICKEN BOO – BY TOM CURLEY

WE NEED TO RUN A LEVEL FIVE DIAGNOSTIC! – BY TOM CURLEY

MEDICARE TO SENIORS: WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE?- MARILYN ARMSTRONG – You’d think this would be very old news by now, wouldn’t you? This is the third year this post has been in the top 25. It shouldn’t be evergreen, but it is.

YESTERDAY IS ANOTHER COUNTRY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

THE KILLING FIELDS OF EASTON – BY TOM CURLEY

THE LONGEST RUNNING TV SHOW – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

IF IMITATION IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF FLATTERY – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

WHAT EMPOWERS YOU? – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

I picked 25 posts. Some of the posts were a redo of others, so I picked one of several. Posts are not listed by their statistics. All were all popular. A few posts that don’t show here were re-blogs that did extremely well, but since none of us wrote them, they aren’t included. Also, photo posts — with one exception — are not listed. They are a different class and deserve their own place.

A lot of posts had very similar numbers, just three or four views separating them. To me, that meant they were all popular. I could easily have included another 25, but I got tired of cutting and pasting and it’s New Year’s Eve.

A big hand for Serendipity’s whole crew! We broke all our records this year. It’s the best year to date as we enter year number six. We are up by almost 60,000 views from 2016 and more than 150 views per day. The credit belongs us all — and you. Everyone who comes to read and comment, the folks who give me great ideas about what to write. Ideas that make me think and grow.

You are my friends. I listen to you, share your words, read your work. Truly, all of you have made my life so much better!