Authors, Books, Family, Strong Women, Travel, Writing

Travel by Reading

C. Harris Quote

This summer, my household budget was as tight as our governments. That did not stop me from visiting cities abroad, smell exotic foods, or immerse myself (albeit briefly) into the language and culture of other regions. I made my summer trips via books, plunging myself in the sounds, senses, and languages of other cultures and regions.

As usual, I prefer to read about women protagonists’ who face obstacles and become or are strong women. I purchased all of these books, except for “The 228 Legacy,” which I read on NetGalley.*

The exotic, chaotic, and vibrant characters in “The Woman Who Fell From the Sky: An American Journalist in Yemen” by Jennifer Steil was tantalizing. The 354 page novel is from Random House/Broadway. This is the kind of memoir I love to read.

woman who fell from the sky

The author was 37 years old when she left  New York as a successful journalist and accepted a three week assignment teaching wanna be reporters for a small Yemen newspaper in Sana’e.

The  novel  is fascinating, humorous, and sometimes frustrating. The authors three weeks ends up being a one year assignment with reporters who have their own ideas of writing news. She shows us Yemen, its food, culture, and language through her anecdotes and relationships with the reporters. More importantly, the story is a great read about women, gender roles, and society.

What captured me was the authors full characterizations of the news staff. The men often committed loutish behavior, but she also balanced this with their cultural mores. The women reporters especially fascinated me with their intelligence, struggles, and persistence. The pacing is quick, the setting colorful, and the writer keeps the readers attention.

Jennifer Steil was somewhat derided in book reviews because she shares her personal relationship with the married British Ambassador. There are perhaps five pages interspersed at the last quarter of the 332 page book. The romance is not a central theme in the book although it’s given much attention by some reviewers. The Ambassador is  now her husband. The title of her upcoming novel is, “The Ambassador’s Wife.” This book is on my TBR list.

Now back to the United States, in Kansas CIty, Missouri. “Every Last Secret,” (McMillian/Minotaur) a 300 page mystery novel by Linda Rodriguez, took me into the world of Detective Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion, an intelligent, savvy,  half Cherokee woman who has a heart for those treated unjustly.

every last secret

Police work is not an unknown world to me, as I spent 28 years working with law enforcement so the protagonist, Detective Bannion, was particularly captivating because she dealt with many issues  women face in law enforcement, particularly women of color. She does this without overreaching or whining. I did want to read more about her friends and how she related to them so I’d get more of a full picture of her as a character.

Someone murdered the student news editor in chief who was facing sexual assault and theft charges. The university politics cause many crimps in solving the mystery, but it does intrigue. The novelist takes the reader on a twist and turn through several suspects and just as many murders. This happens amid the interruptions of her jealous ex-cop husband and her father, a disgraced alcoholic ex-cop father.

This was the first mystery I’ve read in many years as it’s not my genre, however, what drew me to this novel was the female protagonist in law enforcement and how she dealt with her job and personal life. “Every Last Secret,” won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. Ms Rodriguez second novel, “Every Broken Trust,” is now available.

The 228 Legacy front cover

Now onto Taiwan with debut author, Jennifer J. Chow’s book,  “The 228 Legacy,” published by Martin Sisters, 324 pages. Three generations in an all-female Taiwanese family living near Los Angeles in 1980 gives us a multigenerational view of their life. The grandmother has breast cancer, the daughter loses her job, and granddaughter, Abbey, has several struggles including bullying.

I’m a fan of historical fiction and the story elements of significant historical events, immigrant experiences, second and third generational issues, and mother daughter relationships made this novel interesting to me although there were many themes to follow.

The character I grew to care about the most was Abbey and Jack, the elderly man in the story. Sometimes 10 year old Abbey’s reactions to situations didn’t seem appropriate but she was likable and interesting.

The 228 Massacre was an uprising of the Taiwanese people against Chinese rule of occupied Taiwan following World War II. It is a sensitive event which has significantly influenced Taiwan’s politics and nationalism. The memory of this massacre and how it influences three generations of family is at the crux of “The 228 Legacy.”

the space between us

“The Space Between Us,” by Thrity Umrigar is a 321 page novel published by Harper Collins. The novel is the story of two women in Bombay, one is the servant, one is the mistress of the household: the privileged and the powerless. Each of their lives is examined through the events that occur in their relationship.

The richness of this culture, the differences in classes, and the male and female gender roles fascinated me. The main characters are given full dimension and you neither love or hate them, but understand their motivations. The reader ends up caring for most of the characters. The scenes are fast paced when they need to be and loving rendered to establish locale and atmosphere.

The novel highlights injustice through scenes and plays them out to ends the reader may not like. The ending was abrupt for me. It didn’t like it until I realized that this reality would have the ending be that way. It’s not a warm fuzzy ending, but I can appreciate the experience. Ms. Umrigar is the author of four other novels.

The book contains an author interview, features, and “Words to the Wise Would Be Writer-15 tips.” I was inspired by her suggestions.

My fall reading list takes me from the Southwest US to Paris and India with Count on Me, Tales of Sisterhood, by Las Comadres Para Las Americas; Trapped in Paris by Evelyne Holingue; The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri and Mañana Means Heaven, by Tim Hernandez.

Keep reading.

*No agreements or exchanges made for any favorable reviews. I don’t give the books “stars” or points. For any numeric ratings you can read my reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. (For some unknown reason my GoodReads widget is in error and not showing the books on the shelf).

Books, Chingonas, Travel, Wisdom, Writing

10 Tips to a Gripping Lede

AROHO Writer's Retreat, NM
Morning view at Ghost Ranch, NM

This morning I woke to the prison gray sky of my coastal town making me nostalgic for the turquoise New Mexican sky above the biting burros of Ghost Ranch. The memories I am left with are photos, mosquito bites, fragrance of hay and red clay, the sound of laughter, heart breaking words, and wisdom from inspiring women writers.

AROHO’s Retreat for Women Writer’s filled me with more than memories and new friendships but also with valuable information about the craft of writing. Amazing poets, writers and artists shared information to help others, to give new perspectives to old topics, to enlighten, energize and invigorate words and writing. These women are bien chignonas of the third kind: generous, strong, and creative.

For the next few weeks I’ll intermittently share some of their information, their words of wisdom, and hope that it will help you in your writing.

The first writer is Jennifer Steil, the author of  The Woman Who Fell from the Sky.  She is a journalist, novelist, creative non-fiction writer, and generous soul.

Author Jennifer Steil

She shared 10 tips to a gripping lede. A  little history lesson first.  The spelling of lede was to distinguish the word from lead, a strip of metal separating lines of type in the very earlier days of newspaper reporting. A lede is the first line, lines or the first paragraph of a magazine or newspaper article which also includes most of the five W’s and the H.

With Jennifer’s permission, here are the 10 tips I jotted down:

  1. Establish curiosity in the readers mind. Whet the appetite. Be creative with a purpose (the lede must be part of the story).

    “Millionaire Harold F. McCormick today bought a poor man’s youth.” – about an organ transplant

  2. Jolt your reader:Include a detail that differentiates it from others. A telling detail.
  3. Use an arresting image (related to the story).

    “Bad things happen to the husbands of widow Elkhorn.”

  4. Use active verbs: someone did something
  5. Don’t start with an attribution. (said, or meandering clauses).
  6. Use an analogy to lead. This explains the unknown.
  7. Word play leads. Use playful ways of beginning:

    Snow, followed by small boys on sleds. – Allen Smith NY Telegram, in a weather forecast

  8. The writer has 3.7 seconds to get someone to read their story. What makes the story interesting?
  9. Give a character lead. Give a portrait of the subject with two or three sentences.
  10. The lede has to have something specific to tell the reader. Keep the lede short, 25-35 words.

To be honest, Jennifer gave us a couple of more tips but these are the ones I had time to jot down. Check out her website and FB for other information. Her new book, The Ambassador’s Wife, will debut in 2014.