When Choosing Fiction, Don’t Settle for Less

To borrow and repurpose a related quote:

The book you want exists. Don’t settle until you find it.

It’s fun to browse around the library’s “New and Notable” shelves. I read plenty of classic fiction so I appreciate it when others recommend new novels and authors. But I have noticed something in the past five years or so. Not all of them of course, but the newest books seem more often than not to be dark or depressing. 

What’s going on?

Over the past year I’ve tried to find out what is going on in the literary community to cause such a change. I haven’t found a solid answer yet, but I have some ideas.

First, entertainment–which includes literature–reflects society’s view of life and the world. I have noticed the trend toward dark, serious subjects in movies and TV shows as well. For someone like me growing up on an after-school fare of Sheriff Andy Taylor, Lucy, and Gilligan, it’s quite a switch to see innocent, unsophisticated sitcoms replaced by shows about deadly serious crimes and toxic relationships.

Different generations have different tastes in entertainment. These tastes are brought about by world events, education, morals and religious faith, the condition of the family, changes in the workplace and technology, and many other influences in life. I think the increasing speed of life alone causes boredom with the old, slower ways, which drives many to seek more stimulating, intense entertainment. 

I Wonder

And I wonder… What kinds of books are teachers choosing for their students, from Grade 1 to 12? Here is a great article by an upper school teacher, explaining why she thinks people of all ages ought read sad books, and another article by a student who has the opposite opinion.

I also wonder… What kinds of writing themes are writing teachers choosing for their students, in high school and post secondary schools? Is it a fad to write dark?

For a while, from curiosity, the need for novelty, and a bit of laziness, I SETTLED for new fiction that wasn’t really what I wanted to read. I trusted the recommendations, brought home many brand-new novels, devoted precious evening time, and waded right in. Surprisingly, many caused me to shudder and close the cover after reading a few chapters, and being completely blind-sided by the relaxed, casual mention of horrifically disturbing events, relayed as if a completely natural and common occurrence in one’s day, in the same banal tone as describing what you had for breakfast. And back they went to the library!

So these changing tastes in literature remain a bit of a mystery to me, requiring more research. But as I’ve searched for good quality, enriching fiction, I have found some sunshine! 

pxfuel.com

Finding enriching fiction

Like me, many people are online looking for happy books. In addition to my own posts recommending upbeat books, many others who seek out positive reading experiences have compiled their own lists. Here are the ones I’ve found the most promising.

Positively Good Reads
Just reading Marianne Goss’s elegant description of her search for “hopeful literature with relatable characters,” is a delight in itself. She created a website called Positively Good Reads in answer to the many people who asked for her help in finding “positive literary books” that people “would actually enjoy reading.” What a relief to find this long list, and to detect a camaraderie with the author as I noticed many on her list that I own, have reviewed on my blog, or have read. I first found Marianne Goss in this 2020 post “When you need upbeat fiction,” which I also highly recommend. 

Goodreads

As expected Goodreads has plenty of lists to help you find the kinds of books you want to read. Here is just one example: a list pointing you to feel-good books that are “Light, but not (too) dumb“.

Your local Library

When I search my library for lists of “books that are not depressing” I find 3 lists; “books that are upbeat” gives 5 lists, including this list of Up-Lit for Book Clubs; “books that are positive” gives about 10 lists for various audiences; “books with happy endings” gives 9 lists for all ages; “gentle reads” gives 5 lists. No doubt your local library has its own recommendations or lists.

Library Thing

This website is filled with all kinds of book information, including lists such as this one, “Curious as to an upbeat literature list“.

Short Fiction

If you prefer short fiction, check out American Literature’s webpage, “50 Great Feel-Good Stories” or Project Gutenberg’s book, “The Best American Humorous Short Stories“. NPR received 7,000 votes for the books, stories and poems that make their readers laugh, and they compiled 100 of them in this categorized list. Also, Reedsy has a webpage entitled “1700+ Short Happy Stories to Read

A good story doesn’t need a devastating twist. Nor does it have to plumb the darkest depths of the human conditions. These happy short stories might be exactly what you’re looking for in these uncertain times.

Reedsy

Any thoughts or recommendations?

If you are looking for less depressing fiction, or if you like dark fiction, or if you have a book or short story to recommend, or if you just want to say hi, please leave a comment.

And may whatever you’re reading bring you hope, peace and inspiration!

Self-Publishing and the Local Library

Just when I think I’ve become familiar with all the resources at my local library, I’ll happen upon yet another free feature. Today it was the surprise of finding a self-publishing community!

Indie Author Project–bringing together public libraries, authors, curators, and readers–started out as a partnership with Library Journal, and turned into a publishing community.

In my library it appears on the Readers and Writers webpage, along with information about the library’s website for indie authors, AND an easy-to-use digital self-publishing tool.

Nothing short of brilliant!

Browsing the Indie Alberta Collections of Self-Published books via Calgary Public Library

I ran across more information at Jane Friedman’s blog, in the article “6 Steps to Get your Self-Published Book into Libraries“. Here children’s author Ilham Alam gives step-by-step instructions for other authors who are interested in getting their self-published book into libraries. She even includes a template to use for pitching your work to a librarian.

Even Library and Archives Canada is highlighting their services for self-publishers, here.

My book is not quite ready to be self-published, but it’s good to know that there are so many options available for sending it out into the world.

Here are some links for authors wanting to get involved in a local Indie Author Day:
https://indieauthorday.com/host-an-event/ and https://indieauthorday.com/authors/

And although it is closed for 2021, the Alberta Author Project holds a contest for Indie Authors, according to https://indieauthorproject.librariesshare.com/alberta/ .

Check out your library!

Granted, not all libraries are the same, so yours may have different offerings. But go check your library out, because it may have snuck in some new resources, too!

Here are some features more and more libraries offer:

  • Getting advice and having your manuscript reviewed by the Author in Residence
  • Accessing resources from a network of other library systems
  • Accessing free services like borrowing a laptop for up to 8 weeks, free printing, or even free library cards!
  • Indoor play areas
  • Meeting rooms for families or organizations
  • Borrowing a Musical Instrument
  • At-home online virtual services: story times, early literacy activities, study help for students, free online courses for adults, streaming your favourite music, flipping through a digital magazine, watching an award-winning film

A group I sometimes hike with even borrows hiking gear from their town’s local library!

Happy reading and writing and exploring!

Relax, there will be an Answer

Have you ever had a dilemma and suddenly–without any effort from you–the answer became clear? That’s what happened to me last week.

The dilemma was one of those fuzzy impressions, hard to put my finger on, a nagging weight on my mind, frustration. It seemed to be related to my many writing projects and interests, and the competition we writers face as we attempt to find readers and run our business.

When the dust cleared, the issue, in all honesty, was that I was become more aware of my limitations, and feeling more and more inept as I tried to compete with much more talented and experienced writers. Aargh.

George Pope Morris -from Wikipedia

The first “Answer”

While studying what were said to be good examples of short stories, I read “The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots” by George Pope Morris, a 19th century American editor, poet, and songwriter. It’s interesting how he starts out by telling us the theme of his story.

How much real comfort every one might enjoy if he would be contented with the lot in which heaven has cast him, and how much trouble would be avoided if people would only “let well alone.” A moderate independence, quietly and honestly procured, is certainly every way preferable even to immense possessions achieved by the wear and tear of mind and body so necessary to procure them.

George Pope Morris

He introduces us to Monsieur Poopoo, living a simple, satisfying life keeping a small toy-store…

“You must recollect him, of course… When a juvenile, you have bought tops and marbles of him a thousand times… There he was as happy as a lark-and there, in all human probability, he would have been to this very day…had he been willing ‘let well alone.'”

When I read those three words, I instantly knew that was the answer to my own dilemma. Instead of focusing on the writing skills and experience I already have, and building on them, I have been frustrated over the new ones I am straining toward. Ah, me.

[By the way, if you prefer to listen to the George Pope Morris story, you can do so here!]

Paul McCartney – from his Twitter

The second “Answer”

As if to underscore Mr. Morris’s point, a few days later I ran across a video of Paul McCartney driving around with a talk show host in the locations featured in many of McCartney’s songs. At the beginning of the video (5:00, but keep watching until 7:45, priceless!), the mega-star recalls that the Beatles assumed their music might have maybe ten years of popularity and relevance. In the 1960s his mother, who had passed away, came to him in a dream, and reassured him by saying, “It’s going to be okay, just let it be”. He’d never really heard that, but he believed her, and was relieved. The next morning, he pondered again what she’d said. Let it be. He let those three little words sink in, and become music. Life-changing–maybe career changing–advice!

By the way, it is a funny video for the most part, but much of it, especially near the end, is also quite thought provoking and heartwarming.

…Which reminded me

Put another way, as my friend Pat recommended about thirty years ago when I confided to her about a problem I was struggling with, “Stop trying so hard.” Simple yet effective. I immediately took her advice and it did wonders for the current situation. I have returned to it many times since then, and passed it on to other friends. Mr. Morris and Mr. McCartney reminded me of Pat’s advice.

A Biblical passage puts it this way, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Ps 46:10. I also love what bloggers Brett and Chuck Swindoll said about this verse in their posts.

Another passage says, “Do not be anxious or worried about anything.” Philippians 4:6. And my favorite…

In quietness and confident trust is your strength

Isaiah 30:15 , The Bible

Well, there you have it, the same general message conveyed in different words and images. I know I find it easy to forget that I don’t have to stress out over things, and am always relieved to be reminded. I hope some of these words will pop into your mind and “be the answer” some day when you most need them!

Summer Learning

Even though most schools are closing for the summer, learning doesn’t stop. In fact, learning outside of school can be one of the most valuable ways to increase our–and our kids’ and grandkids’–knowledge and understanding in various fields of interest.

From what I understand from working in the education field, and from personal experience, learning comes easier when we are enjoying ourselves and taking part in activities we are keenly interested in.

What are you looking forward to learning about this summer? Or, should I say, what fun things are you planning to DO this summer? (I’d seriously love to know–leave me a note below.) I believe that these concepts–learning, fun, doing–all go together.

If you are interested, Practical Homeschooling magazine just published my article on the subject, in their issue #146. I wrote it about a conversation with my young children, who thought I was insane when I told them I loved to learn. I think I convinced them that “learning” and “school” were two different things, by keeping track of all of our summer activities and showing them how much they’d “accidentally” learned.

The lines between school learning, learning at home, and home schooling have definitely blurred over the past year. If you find that learning at home has been a positive experience for you and your children, and you are planning to continue that in the future, you might want to have a look at homeschooling resources like this one. At $4.95 U.S./Canadian, you can’t go wrong!

What am I looking forward to learning this summer? I want to learn how to use all–or most–of the features of my new (to me) camera.

I have been struggling to learn how to use the manual settings. It’s partly re-learning, since my photography-teacher dad taught me how to use them in the 70s, before I got lazy with point-and-shoot cameras.

Yes, I have watched many videos and read lots of the manuals, but the most effective way I have learned about it is, you guessed, using it. Trial and error, and making mistakes, only nowadays without wasting expensive film and the cost of developing it!

I am fortunate that I enjoy walking and exercise, am a morning person (as are many animals), it is summer time right now, and that I enjoy the quiet and solitude of the forest. All of those give me inspiration to power on through the frustration, to try and try again to get good shots.

The hundreds, even thousands, of out-of-focus animals and flowers, and borrrring landscapes, have taught me valuable lessons. I still haven’t figured out how to take clear videos, unfortunately. Sigh.

If you want to see some of the shots that did work, have a look below. At any rate….

I wish you and yours many happy learning experiences over the summer!

Mergansers – the adult on the right kept attacking the other adult – stressed out from all those little ones? ha ha
Little one strayed a little to far into the neighborhood, the neighbors and I encouraged it to go home because its mother was worried, it disappeared into the long grass
Not sure exactly what kind of bird this is, but it seemed to want its picture taken!

Update – the Calgary READS Big Book Sale has been cancelled

With the wellbeing of our community in mind, the Big Book Sale has been cancelled… Take special care & take comfort in books and reading aloud!

From all of us at Calgary READS

Thanks for giving it your best shot, Calgary READS! You are awesome and it will happen in the future!

By the way, anyone who wants to make a donation can do so here. And definitely check out their fun video!

It’s a stressful time. I wish you all peace, patience, health, hope and connection with our Father in heaven. Here is one of the sweetest songs I’ve ever heard, at 20 Schemes. I discovered it a few weeks ago, and it just keeps going round and round in my head, bringing calm and sweetness to my days. I hope it does the same for you, my friend. {{{Hugs!}}}

This Calgary 2021 Spring Book Sale is a GO!

MAY 11 2021 UPDATE

THE SALE HAS BEEN CANCELLED

For years and years over the long winters in Calgary, I’ve been cheered by looking forward to the 2 huge book sales in May. Last year we had to be patient, and this year one of them is happening!

I contacted Calgary READS a month ago. They were trying to get the sale ready to go for May, and said they’d get in touch with me if they succeeded. They HAVE SUCCEEDED!

Calgary READS Book Sale is

May 28 – June 19, 2021

(closed Mondays and Tuesdays)

at the same place as usual, the Calgary Curling Club, 720 3 St. NW, Calgary

150,000 gently used and carefully sorted books are waiting for you BY APPOINTMENT.

[Book an appointment HERE]

Come to the Sale, or shop from home.

More details from their website…

SHOP IN PERSON

Our entire Book Sale operations have been reimagined to keep our customers and volunteers safe.  We have extended the Book Sale dates so you now have 17 days (by appointment) for relaxed, physically distanced shopping.  No rush …. we’ll refresh tables daily.

Appointments:

  • For safety reasonsattendance at the Book Sale is BY APPOINTMENT ONLY.
  • Duration: Appointments are for 90 minutes.
  • Need more time?: Day passes are available for $25 per adult.
  • Book an Appointment HERE

Event Fee: An event fee of $3 per adult will be added to your total purchase on EXITING the sale.

Special Days:  Stay tuned for information on our BOGO Days (Buy One Get One).

Safety: 

  • Guidelines: Our procedures strictly follow public health requirements and government guidelines
  • Masks are mandatory
  • Occupancy: Occupancy restrictions are strictly enforced. Attendance is by appointment only.  The number of customers admitted will adhere to public health restrictions. Enjoy physically distanced, relaxed shopping with occupancy restrictions.
  • Our redesigned floor plan allows for one way, flow through traffic.

SHOP FROM HOME

Can’t make it to the Book Sale? Stay tuned for more information on our shop from home initiatives:

  • Personal Shopping Service
  • “Blind Date with a Book” Bags

Learn more about what Calgary Reads is doing to put children on the path to success in school and in life.

Doing a happy dance!!!

Thanks Pixabey and Clipart-Library for the cheery clipart!

Treasure Hunt!

As I posted a few days ago, the first book in the upcoming Sci-Fi Fantasy Leoshine series, Leoshine Princess Oracle, is launching. To celebrate, author N. MacCameron and her friends have ingeniously created this Treasure Hunt to celebrate her book.

If you signed up for the hunt, this is one of the stops on this internet quest!


Welcome to our Famous Canadian Women Internet Treasure Hunt. We’re so glad you’re here to play!

You are doing well! You have signed up at Leoshine’s website and got the key to cracking the code. (If you still need to do that, we’ll hold your place here while you do!)

You have found real treasure – one of ten pictures that represent the name of a famous Canadian woman in the Tassanara script — specially developed by Travis Williams for the Sci Fi/ Fantasy Leoshine, Princess Oracle written by N. MacCameron and due to be released in May.

Your next task is to decipher the script to learn which Famous Canadian Woman you have found. Keep track of each name you decode so you can put it in the form that comes at the end.

You get bonus points if you can say where in Canada this wonderful woman lived(s) and how she contributed to the world as a better place.

Once you find all ten treasures, follow the last link to the answers form.

If the deadline – March 13th 2021 11:59pm MST – comes before you find all of them, send what you have! Prizes will be announced on March 14th 2021.

You could win an audiobook of Leoshine, Princess Oracle by N. MacCameron, an eBook of DiscerningGrace by  Emma Lombard, or a digital background of the map developed by Rachael Ward.

If you play after March 14th 2021, great! There’s a prize for you too! Keep playing through to the end! Thank you for playing! Secret codes are great, aren’t they? By following them, you get treasure! You have fun! You meet new people!

You are amazing! You completed the Treasure Hunt!!! Now go to the Answer Form and fill it out! Claim your bonus now!

A heads-up for fans of Sci-Fi Fantasy Adventure

Is Leoshine a Princess, a Slave, or a Queen?

The first book in the upcoming Leoshine series, Leoshine Princess Oracle, will lead you into the fascinating world created by talented author N. MacCameron.

To find out more about Leoshine, and the launch of this inspiring series, head over to https://leoshine.micandpen.com/ .

There you’ll also find the opportunity to get a free audiobook of another Science Fiction Fantasy Title by N. MacCameron. Hagovi’s Bridge follows the revelation and transformation of a young woman exiled to the end of Time.

To take part in the treasure-hunting fun coming up March 7, 2021,

sign up at https://leoshine.micandpen.com/ .

Review of To See the Moon Again

It’s February, when I usually pick my favorite romance novel of the past year to review.

But this time I’m deviating a bit from Valentine’s Day. This book is not a romance, or a story about a man and a woman. But is a story with a lot of heart, about a friendship between an aunt and her niece.

I love this book. It has strong characters with severe challenges, yet is full of warmth and a moving plot. And the connection with the author whom I so admire made it even more special.

Two women, one older, one younger, nudge each other to have healthier attitudes toward life and themselves. Julia, an introverted professor of fiction writing in South Carolina, is on a year sabbatical, planning a trip to New England to see famous authors’ homes. She definitely did not plan on her grand-niece Carmen disrupting her safe, orderly life. But Carmen is suffering deeply from losing her father, feeling alone, and carrying a secret.

The ending is unexpected and creative, and completely believable. This book was a treat, a typical Jamie Langston Turner book–I didn’t want it to end. Excellent writing, plot, character development, the book is current, relevant, gripping, realistic, satisfying and inspiring.

Of course, being a Jamie Langston Turner fan from wayyyyy back, this is par for the course. I have loved every moment of reading her books. Years ago, I gave away By the Light of a Thousand Stars, a favorite, to my best friend. When I later came across it at a thrift store, I bought it. When my daughter-in-law asked me what my favorite books were, I ended up giving it away again. I’m sure it will get back on my shelf somehow.

I am thankful that of the making of both friends and books, there is no end.

Sheila J Petre

I wondered if there were any of her books I hadn’t read yet. So I went to the author’s website (where I found the lovely quote above, and today found a humorous update by the author). I was surprised to find out that there were several that had eluded me, and was delighted at the prospect of reading more.

On the page that listed her works, I saw a little note saying that she still had several signed copies of To See the Moon Again, and if anyone wanted one they could send her a message. Yes, please! But I checked the date of the post and it was 2014. Well, there was little chance that there were any copies left, but I sent a message anyway.

The author immediately responded that she had one more, so it must have been meant for me! We sorted out how I could send her a cheque and she could mail me the book. What a privilege and a joy to have a personal connection with her! Corresponding with Jamie was as delightful as reading one of her books, full of warmth and friendship.

As we emailed back and forth, talking about how much it cost her to mail it at her local post office–and the exchange rate from U.S. dollars to Canadian–she decided that I had definitely sent her too much money. So the solution we arrived at was that if I was ever anywhere near where Jamie lived (or if she was near Calgary), she would treat me to coffee! (It hasn’t happened yet, but I still look forward to that!)

When I checked my local library, I saw that they had 2 of hers, Sometimes a Light Surprises and By the Light of a Thousand Stars. So I decided to recommend that they consider adding To See the Moon Again to their collection–and they did!!!

Let me encourage you, if you haven’t already discovered Jamie Langston Turner and her beautiful books, now is the time to do so! They were made “for such as time as this”.

Love and hugs, I hope you are well and safe, finding connections of all sorts to buoy you up, and realizing how much you are loved!

[Clipart courtesy of Clipart-Library.com]