Monday musings: Share your summer reading list

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Summer. Forest fires and wildfires on one side of the continent, floods on the other. World conferences on terrorism and climate change.

It’s no wonder that in summer, readers like to choose lighter fare. Romances, mysteries, thrillers. At the beach or on the dock, in the backyard hammock or on the cottage porch, we’re supposed to be reading books that don’t tax our minds and souls too much. We’re supposed to be on vacation, taking things easy, enjoying the weather and the outdoors.

But is that trope really true? Sure, I remember seeing lots of mysteries held up by people on lounge chairs by the ocean. Clive Cussler, Lee Child, the awful E.L. James, David Baldacci — thrillers and romances and books that do not ask you to think too deeply. But also, I have seen people reading more serious books, like The Girl on the Train or The Couple Next Door.

Various newspapers and blogs also recommend a wider range of books, from The American War by Omar El Akkad (if that one doesn’t make you think about our modern world, I don’t know what will). And of course, The Handmaid’s Tale is playing on TV right now.

How heavy are these books?

The thing about serious books is that many of them could be classified into a genre, which some readers and critics—and writers—describe as not as serious. Not “literary.” But many genre books have also turned out to be serious, to have an impact on the culture. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road can be seen as part of the post-apocalyptic science fiction genre, but it’s a deep, meaningful story about a father and son. Margaret Atwood has written several books, including The Handmaid’s Tale, that definitely fit into the science fiction category.

Independent authors are usually seen as definitely working within genres, and from a marketing point of view, that makes sense. The romance genre, for example, by far outsells, as a whole, every other category of fiction, including “serious” literary fiction. So do mystery and action thrillers.

Blurred lines

The thing is, the high walls between genres are also breaking down. Writers are mixing up mysteries and science-fiction, thrillers and fantasy, and let’s not forget the burgeoning paranormal romance genre.

I myself like to blur the lines between genres. I have been working intermittently on a novel that combines the spy thriller with occult horror, called Dark Clouds. I have published one chapter, the introduction, as a short story. You can find it as Dark Clouds: The Mandrake Ruse.

BestSelling Reads members, independent authors, are not only skilled within their genres, but challenge the genre definitions with books that break the rules, cross genres and keep you from putting their books down before you get to the last page. Eden Baylee’s A Snake in Paradise and Charade At Sea, for example, combine mystery with adult-oriented romance. Renée Pawlish’s Reed Ferguson series moves the noir mystery into the current century, with a heaping helping of humor. Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman have teamed up with the Scorch Road series, combining the post-apocalyptic and serious romance genres. Samreen Ahsan has created a brand new genre, paranormal romances based on Muslim themes, in her Prayer series.

And there’s more.A Silent Prayer cover

Each of these books does more than combine genres: they create something new, something exciting. A new kind of adventure for the reader.

What’s on your summer reading list?

Are you sticking with the easy reads, the reiterations of the same stories, or are you on the lookout for something new, fresh and original? Share what you want to read through the hot and quiet months, and we’ll send you a free e-book.

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Monday Musings: Biting the Bullet and Writing the Truth

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by Kathleen Valentine

The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”

Margaret Atwood

530Peonies2As a novelist Margaret Atwood has never shied away from brutal—and sometime prophetic—realities. For that reason, when I read the above quote it hit me hard. Somehow it is difficult for me to imagine her shying away from writing the truth. But the point that she makes is a good one and the more brutal the truth, the more difficult it can often be to write.

In my writing life most of my writing hasn’t required that I do much bullet biting but on the two occasions when it has, it was hard. It was very hard. My novella, The Monday Night Needlework and Murder Guild is mostly a relatively humorous crime story about a group of sixty-something ladies in a small New England town. When a devious sociopath (is that redundant?) begins romancing and then fleecing the ladies of the group, two of them, Cece and Gwen, decide to do something about it.

I had the entire story in mind before I began writing but I knew that at some point both ladies had to reveal situations from their past that had such a powerful impact it made it possible for them to do what they chose to do. It never occurred to me that I’d wind up writing about a deeply personal experience and, even as I was writing it, I couldn’t quite belive what I was doing. For months after it was written I told myself it was too raw, too brutal to make for good story-telling but I finally got up the courage to publish and, lo and behold, the world did not come to an end. What did happen was a handful of emails from women who said, “That’s what happened to me and I couldn’t tell anyone either.”

The second story, The Confession of Genny Franck, which is part of my Marienstadt collection, The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall, tells the story of a much older relative of mine. She told me the story—much as Genny does in the story—in the final months of her life. My heart has always ached that she lived most of her life with her terrible secret and what she did out of love.

Yes, we bleed a little when we write these stories. Our hearts weep and we go through the terror of wondering if the world will hold us in contempt. It won’t—the world needs our truths. Other people need our truths. We need our truths. So we bite the bullet, close our eyes, and let our fingers fly, hoping we’ll have the courage to keep going. And the more we do this, the bolder we become.

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