To Be Read: One Writer’s Fight Against His Ridiculous Reading Ambitions (August 2018)

Rather appropriately, Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree bookended my time at the God’s Whisper Farm Writers’ Retreat in Radiant, Virginia, in late June of this year. I read his slim volume on both my departing and return flights.

The book’s subtitle—which has to be a tagline rather than a subtitle because of its ridiculous yet awesome length—tells you what you need to know about the book: “A hilarious and true account of one man’s struggle with the monthly tide of the books he’s bought and the books he’s been meaning to read.”

Now, I’m no Nick Hornby.

Although we share the same follicular challenge, he’s a celebrated author with dozens of excellent books to his name and more than a few film adaptions of those works.

However, I am a writer, and I’d guess we shared something in common long before either of us chose to begin writing.

We love reading.

In September 2003, Hornby began writing a monthly column where he captured what books he’d bought that month and what books he’d read.

Even though I was familiar with maybe 50 percent of his monthly lists, I was still compelled to read every chapter, inhaling his book about books like a bloodhound attracted to the unmistakable scent within a used bookstore.

Of course, it helps that Hornby knows how to write.

But what truly fascinated me were the coincidental connections he haphazardly stumbled upon. Like many literature lovers, he had little rhyme or reason for choosing what he wanted to read next (unless an author friend or a publishing professional asked him to read their book or their client’s book).

In other words, he wasn’t trying to make the connections happen. They just did.

Inspired by his book and wanting to be a better literary citizen myself, here’s my first installment of “To Be Read: One Writer’s Fight Against His Ridiculous Reading Ambitions.”

Books Bought and Books Read in August 2018

Books Bought

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, Phillip Lopate

Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, Patricia T. O’Conner

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Arthur Bennett

The Little Black Book: Books – Over a Century of the Greatest Books, Writers, Characters, Passages and Events That Rocked the Literary World, Lucy Daniel

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

The Literary Legacy of C. S. Lewis, Chad Walsh

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, Mary Norris

Tell It Slant, Brenda Miller

Writer’s Handbook: Explorations in Writing and Publishing, James A. Michener

Books Read

Creative Quest (Audiobook), Questlove

Moonglow, Michael Chabon

Robin (Audiobook), Dave Itzkoff

***

In “Other People’s Bookshelves,” literary cartoonist Grant Snider boldly proclaims, “I will judge you by your bookshelf.” In the last three frames, the story takes an inevitable turn: “But if I ever invite you over . . . I ask only one thing: Don’t judge me.”

I don’t think I fear your judgment of my reading choices. Rather, I fear your judgment of my problem.

Then again, maybe you suffer from the same disease. Book-buying as pastime. Used bookstore browsing as weekly—daily—ritual. Rare bookstore shopping as a vacation destination.

I bought nine books last month. I read three. Even then, I’m not quite telling the truth. I didn’t finish one of them.

***

In “7 Ways to Retain more of Every Book You Read” by James Clear, his first suggestion is to “Quit More Books.”

I have such a hard time with this.

I feel that I owe it to the author to finish what they’ve spent untold hours creating. (I’d want the same from my readers, after all.) I seldom skim. Even if I’m bored to tears, I will plow my way through. For reasons unknown, I have always been this way.

But I hope to change that. I want to read more, and I want to read more of what truly engages my mind and my heart. Which means a sacrifice is necessary.

Sorry, Questlove. You were that first sacrifice.

I went into the book thinking I could glean suggestions for creativity when it comes to writing, even though Quest’s life is filled with music. As a fellow drummer (of much less talent than Quest, of course), I enjoyed some of the anecdotes and lessons. But, aside from one exception, not much stood out to me as revelatory.

The exception was Quest talking about his quest to be the perfect imitation drummer. He could emulate nearly any drummer. He worked on his timing such that it’d be so impeccable, listeners might think he was a drum machine. He wanted to be seen as talented and legit, so he copied those whom he saw as talented and legit.

But then he asked himself, “Who is Questlove as a drummer?”

In other words, he was searching for his voice.

And that’s something I understand in this season of my professional life.

Maybe that’s all I needed to hear from that book.

***

I briefly met Michael Chabon in college when he conducted a reading of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and he signed a copy of that book for me. Since reading Kavalier, I’ve been a fan, though I haven’t always read his books as they’ve been released.

For instance, Moonglow came out in 2016 and was on my radar since its release. But Chabon’s works require investment. You often want to sit within a sentence just to enjoy the way he weaves words together.

And with Moonglow, a story that takes place along multiple timelines, you have to allow yourself time to understand how these timelines ultimately tie together. 

Maybe what’s most fascinating about this book is that it’s a memoir, but it’s not. As the opening Author’s Note says, “In preparing this memoir, I have stuck to facts except when facts refused to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I prefer to understand it.”

Ostensibly, it’s about Michael’s grandfather, on his deathbed, recounting his experiences during World War II to Michael. But, if you read the author interview in the paperback version I read, (“Michael Chabon Is An Underdog On Top Of The World”), Michael’s grandfather was subconsciously modeled more after Michael himself.

It takes an impressive talent to speak meaningfully about love, mental illness, fathers and their children, the Holocaust, and rocketry. But Michael Chabon makes it work because he’s Michael Chabon.

***

Finally, a surprising pick: Robin, by Dave Itzkoff, a recently released biography of Robin Williams.

Like so many others, I assume, I didn’t realize how much I appreciated Robin as a comedian and actor until his time on earth was cut short due to the suicidal ramifications caused by his diffuse Lewy body demetia—a diagnosis that wasn’t made until after his passing.

I was surprised to find myself purchasing and soon listening to this book because thinking about Robin’s death made me sad. For many months following his death, I couldn’t watch his movies or shows, and I’d change the channel whenever a news report about him came on. I realize now that was all denial of a truth I didn’t want to accept.

So, to choose this audiobook, where I’d spend sixteen hours listening to an account of Robin’s life, surprised me.

But I’m so glad I did.

Audiobook narrator Fred Berman did an impressive job of conveying Robin’s hyperkinetic vocal patterns and various voices. His reading made the book thoroughly enjoyable, even above the anecdotes and memories shared throughout the book.

I never knew how quickly Robin ascended from being an unknown comic to instant fame due to Mork & Mindy. Nor did I know that Robin had attended Juilliard. Or that he fought drug addiction. Or that he was at John Belushi’s place the night before he died of an overdose. Or that his career, through his eyes, was so up-and-down. Or that his acting and comedy seemed to be the real highs he constantly chased.

For an actor who was so quick on his feet—mentally and physically—the tragedy of Robin’s life was the way his disease ultimately robbed him of his ability to think clearly and even control his body. While many still mourn his loss, we should be grateful for the body of work he left behind.

I think I’ll go watch Hook now, which isn’t considered one of his more successful films but remains one of my favorites for more reasons than I have room to go into here.

***

What books have you been buying? What books have you been reading? If you’ve read or purchased any of the books listed in this roundup, what did you think about them?

If we all have the same problem, let’s commiserate.

Cartoonist Wes Molebash Talks Writing, Productivity, Inspiration, and What’s Next for MOLEBASHED

On March 29th, Wes Molebash began his first Kickstarter project to fund print and digital editions of the first season of his autobiographical, family-based comic strip, MOLEBASHED. I’m interviewing him today for three reasons:

  1. I’ve (digitally) known Wes since he created the fantastic chapter title page illustrations for my first book, The Gospel According to Breaking Bad.
  2. MOLEBASHED centers on Wes’s new dadness. As a new dad myself, some of the comic strips, like the one included below, would almost be verbatim what happened to me on that particular day. They were eerily accurate in many instances.
  3. Supporting creatives is what creatives ought to do.

3-things-molebashed

Other favorites include Advice for Soon-to-be-Dads, Welcome Home, Parker, We’re Never Gonna Sleep, and 3 Things That Will Occur During Your Baby’s First Week Home. Continue reading “Cartoonist Wes Molebash Talks Writing, Productivity, Inspiration, and What’s Next for MOLEBASHED”

Cartoonist Wes Molebash Talks Writing, Productivity, Inspiration, and What's Next for MOLEBASHED

On March 29th, Wes Molebash began his first Kickstarter project to fund print and digital editions of the first season of his autobiographical, family-based comic strip, MOLEBASHED. I’m interviewing him today for three reasons:

  1. I’ve (digitally) known Wes since he created the fantastic chapter title page illustrations for my first book, The Gospel According to Breaking Bad.
  2. MOLEBASHED centers on Wes’s new dadness. As a new dad myself, some of the comic strips, like the one included below, would almost be verbatim what happened to me on that particular day. They were eerily accurate in many instances.
  3. Supporting creatives is what creatives ought to do.

3-things-molebashed

Other favorites include Advice for Soon-to-be-Dads, Welcome Home, Parker, We’re Never Gonna Sleep, and 3 Things That Will Occur During Your Baby’s First Week Home. Continue reading “Cartoonist Wes Molebash Talks Writing, Productivity, Inspiration, and What's Next for MOLEBASHED”

Looking for a Literary Agent? Make Sure They Have These 3 Essential Qualities

In addition to the editing and ghostwriting I do on a full-time basis as part of BA Writing Solutions LLC, I also help authors craft book proposals. Though it’s not always offered as part of the package, I recently helped an author-client find a literary agent.

After being turned down by a few book agents (well, let’s be honest, I never heard back from them), one agent in particular showed keen interest in our proposal. He liked the pitch, the author, the platform, and the presentation. He spoke with my client and they both realized they had mutual connections. Deal done, right?

My client still had reservations, and understandably so. Your book is your baby, and you want to place it in the best hands possible before sending it off into the world without your immediate help.

A few weeks passed and my client emailed me a strange question: “Is this agent in the Top 5?”

I wasn’t sure how to take that. Top 5 ever? Top 5 in his particular field? Top 5 this year? Top 5 in books sold? Top 5 in earnings? Still, I knew what he was getting at. Fortunately, this particular agent had no qualms in claiming his Not-Top-5 status. He was up front and honest about his work—which got me to thinking about what you really want to look for when you’re looking for a literary agent.

Though I’m sure there are more qualities—feel free to add some in the comments—I think a qualified literary agent only needs to show these three: Continue reading “Looking for a Literary Agent? Make Sure They Have These 3 Essential Qualities”

I Forgive You

For many, saying those three simple words is like pulling their own teeth without anesthesia, especially if the other person has wronged them in a deeply personal way. Granting true forgiveness seems even more impossible when that person was once a close friend.
But it can be done, and it ought to be done.
Stuck: When You Want to Forgive But Don't Know How by Mark RigginsThe rewards of learning how to forgive outweigh the risks. Relationships that seemed broken can be mended, though the process isn’t fast or easy. In fact, the process may ebb and flow for years, with seemingly little process being made for some time. But if both parties agree to at least try to restore the relationship, forgiveness can bring unexpected rewards.
That’s why Pastor Mark Riggins’ Stuck: When You Want to Forgive But Don’t Know How is such an important book. Continue reading “I Forgive You”

The Self Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide

The Self Publisher’s Ultimate Resource GuideWhen it comes to nonfiction that meets a need, I have two responses for books that immediately solve a problem: “I wish I would I have had this when …” and “Why didn’t I think of that?”

The Self Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide made me respond in both ways.

I wish I would have had this resource when I first began self-publishing in 2013. With more than 850 curated and verified resources in 32 categories, the guide that Joel Friedlander and Betty Kelly Sargent compiled offers a directory of self-publishing that should prove invaluable to any new (and old) self-publishing author.

When I first considered self-publishing, I knew few people who had done so before, and I had no idea who to turn to for editing, formatting, cover design, etc. I eventually found good and qualified people to work with, but had I had the Resource Guide, I likely would have saved at least a weeks’ worth of time instead of trying to research so many self-publishing options.

Furthermore, I was surprised at Continue reading “The Self Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide”

What Do You Want to Know About Working with an Editor?

By the end of this month, I’m aiming to have the first draft of a short ebook done that offers practical advice on how writers can work better with copyeditors. It’s mostly targeted toward first-time indie authors who might be wary about paying good money to have their books edited.

Last year, prior to the release of my own indie-published book The Gospel According to Breaking Bad, I was that kind of writer: fearful to release my words to the public, hesitant to hire an editor, and utterly convinced that if I did hire an editor, my book sales would never recoup my investment.

Now, after having been edited and reading as much as I can about the state of both self-publishing and traditional publishing, I’m an ardent proponent of always having your book professionally edited.

Of course, as a freelance editor I’m much more biased than I used to be, but even if part of my livelihood didn’t rely on copyediting, I would still encourage every writer connection of mine to seek a qualified and competent copyeditor to work on their book before sending it out into the world.

In my forthcoming ebook, I go into much more detail about why all writers should seek copyediting. In fact, next week (should the scheduling remain the same), the first chapter of the book will go live as a guest post on Simon Whistler’s Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast website. In that chapter I cover the basics of copyediting, like when an author should hire an editor, how much it might cost, and how the process tends to work.

Until then, what questions do you have about working with a copyeditor?

I want to ensure that my book covers a majority of the questions writers might want to know, so ask away.

How to Thrive in a Perfectly Imperfect Marriage

Mr & Mrs: How to Thrive in a Perfectly Imperfect Marriage: A Christian Marriage Advice BookI’m proud to announce the imminent release of Mr. & Mrs. How to Thrive in a Perfectly Imperfect Marriage: A Christian Marriage Advice Booka new book I had the good fortune to co-write with Kurt Bubna, a wise pastor and talented author.[ref]Yes, I agree that the second subtitle is a bit overkill and dull as a spoon, but I encouraged Kurt to consider including it so as to help with search rankings in both Google and Amazon. Time will tell if that was a wise choice.[/ref]
I “met” Kurt through my former editing position at FaithVillage. He was a consistent contributor, and he continues to churn out thoughtful, inspiring posts at KurtBubna.com and elsewhere online. He’s also the author of the fantastically titled Epic Grace: Chronicles of a Recovering Idiot.[ref]The genesis story for how Epic Grace came to be published is fascinating.[/ref]
As a recent convert to the ranks of the self-employed, I emailed a few pastoral connections to see if they had any projects in need of writing or editing help. Kurt responded in the affirmative and our journey began. A few months after initial contact, we’d written a 174-page book encapsulating everything Kurt has experienced, learned, and taught in his forty years of marriage and thirty-some-odd years of ministry.
It’s the kind of honest, biblical, no-nonsense book I wish someone would have placed in my hands years ago.
Mr. & Mrs. tackles major topics for Christian marriages:

  • Is your marriage based on a contract or a covenant?
  • Why did God make men and women so different?
  • What do men really want from their wives?
  • What do women really want from their husbands?
  • How can spouses become better communicators?
  • How can spouses “fight right?”
  • What does God allow when married couples have sex?
  • How can spouses have a mutually satisfying sex life in their marriage?
  • What happens “when the vow breaks?”
  • How can spouses affair-proof their marriage?
  • Does God hate the divorced?
  • What does the Bible really say about divorce and remarriage?
  • How should the church treat the divorced?
  • What role does forgiveness play in a Christian marriage?

Kurt also included some helpful though challenging questionnaires at the back of the book that will reveal possible pain points in a marriage.

Read an excerpt on Kurt’s site:

Why being purposefully unique is good but sometimes painful!”

Though there are dozens of Christian marriage books available (and Kurt offers a list of these for further reading in the back of our book), Mr. & Mrs. is an accessible read meant for a general Christian audience. While it’s written for both genders, we hope that men find it especially engaging and enlightening.
Mr. & Mrs. officially releases Wednesday, Oct. 15, but you can pre-order the Kindle version today. Alternatively, you can wait until Wednesday to order the print version and you’ll receive the Kindle version for free. As always, please consider posting an honest review of the book on Amazon once you’ve finished reading.
If you’re married, may this book bring healing and hope or encouragement and confidence to you and your spouse.

The Breaking Bad 2.0 Tour: Treading Lightly in Albuquerque

If you ever get the opportunity to visit Albuquerque and you’re a fan of Breaking Bad, be sure to grab a seat on one of the ABQ Trolley Company’s Breaking Bad-themed tours.
Currently, they offer the Bad Tour, a three-hour tour hitting the most well-known spots from the show, and the Bad 2.0 Tour, a two-hour jaunt through some of the lesser-known but still just as awesome filming locales.
If you ever do plan to take that tour, don’t proceed any further, as I’m about to show you the photos I took while on the Bad 2.0 Tour.
Or, in words you may be more familiar with, tread lightly through this post.
Click the first image to start a slideshow. Be sure to read the captions for details and trivia on what you’re looking at!
 


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Highly Recommended Read: Earth & Sky by Guy Delcambre

When someone approaches me who’s suffering deep pain—the kind that causes them to question the goodness of God—I’ll refer them to five books that speak boldly about theodicy, or why a good God allows evil and suffering to exist:

earth and sky guy delcambreWith the release of Guy Delcambre’s Earth & Sky: A Beautiful Collision of Grace and Grief, I have yet another devastatingly tragic-yet-hopeful book to add to this canon of theodicy.
Important note: as of this post’s publish date, Earth & Sky’s pre-order price for Kindle is only $0.99. There’s no reason you shouldn’t buy it now. The book officially releases June 10th.
Like Lewis, Delcambre suffered a grave injustice in the loss of his wife. Unlike Lewis, his wife passed at a young age and left Guy to raise their three young daughters alone. Earth & Sky is his memoir of loss and hope, a searingly well-written book that’s as captivating and challenging as it is heart-breaking and hopeful.
Continue reading “Highly Recommended Read: Earth & Sky by Guy Delcambre”