The Thousand Islands

As regular readers of my blog know, my first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, is coming out in July. It’s set in the Thousand Islands. For those of you who aren’t lucky enough to be familiar with the region, the Thousand Islands is an area that stretches for about fifty miles from Southern Ontario, Canada, into Northern New York.

Here’s a good way to picture it: if you think of the St. Lawrence River as a huge unclasped necklace, the Thousand Islands are its emerald jewels.

Part of my goal in writing the novel was to acquaint readers with the region. I’m hoping this blog post will serve as a primer for people who don’t know the area and as a good memory for those who do know it.

I grew up close to the river, and I spent lots of time there as a child and young adult. The place I remember most vividly is an island called Lazy Bea Isle. It’s not known by that name anymore because it has changed owners, but the island used to belong to my grandmother’s aunt and uncle and I spent lots of time there as a child. We used to stay there during the summer sometimes. It was never like camping, which I don’t love, because there was a big cottage and a bathroom and shower and kitchen and all the things one needs for comfort. It always smelled like pine trees. We used to pick huckleberries from the wild bushes that grew there and we could go fishing and swimming right off the rocks in front of the cottage. The island wasn’t far from Schermerhorn’s Landing; we could walk through the woods near Schermerhorn’s and row a small boat that was kept there over to the island. Or we could hop on my grandfather’s boat at the landing and take the long way ’round.

My grandfather’s boat is another thing I remember well. He and my grandmother and the six people in my family would pile in on a Saturday and just ride around for a few hours. We would take a cooler with lunch and there was always Fresca, which is still my favorite soda. My grandfather kept his boat until I was in my 20s, when he finally had to sell it.

And then there’s Boldt Castle, which makes an appearance in my book. It’s an actual castle located on Heart Island, not far from Alexandria Bay, NY. The three photos below, taken by H. Ross Ney, give a glimpse of its splendor and magnificence. If you ever have a chance to visit the Thousand Islands, don’t leave until you’ve toured Boldt Castle.

Amy Picture 2

Amy Picture 3

Amy Picture 1

The St. Lawrence River is where I learned to water ski, too. I always wished I could be as good as my aunt, but I never achieved that kind of skill. I had a hard time jumping the wake, so I always stayed inside its boundaries. She could ski inside or outside the wake, and on one foot. I couldn’t do that, either. It’s been a long time since I was on water skis and I’ll probably never do it again, but it’s a great memory that I cherish.

My favorite memories are really more of a feeling than a remembrance of certain places. It was a feeling of freedom, of joy, of amazement at the size and majesty of the river, the different beauty of each island, the quiet, and the sheer fun of being on the water. The memories are part of me. I hope that someday you have a chance to visit this wonderful place.

Many thanks to Ross Ney for taking the time to send me the beautiful pictures of the castle and the river.

What are your favorite memories of growing up? I’d love to hear them.

Until next week,

Amy

Why Bother with a Critique Group?

I’ve been hearing about a movie, called “Authors Anonymous,” in which critique groups are presented in a rather poor light. Before I go on, let me make it clear that I have not seen the movie, nor do I plan to. The reviews I’ve seen haven’t been good, and the truth is I don’t go to a lot of movies. I’d rather stay home and read a book.

The point of this post is not to bash the movie, but to offer my own take on the importance of critique groups (One of my children suggested that I write this post on the topic of how-to-accomplish-any-writing-while-your-kids-are-hyped-up-on-Easter-candy, but I’ll save that for another day). Back to the critique groups; I’ll use my personal experience as an example.

I am by no means a critique group expert, but I’ve been a member of one for about a year so I feel somewhat qualified to give my opinion. And my opinion is that it’s been a great experience. I am a member of an online critique group that I found through Women Who Write, a nonprofit writing organization for women. There have been a few comings and goings in my group, but there is still a core group of women who have been there from the online group’s inception. I like to stay in touch with the women who have left our group to continue to offer support and encouragement. The members of the group are at different places in our writing journey, and we all need and offer support and constructive criticism to each other.

This is how it works: there are rules about the length of our submissions to the group. We all adhere to the rules. We submit our writings on a designated day every month and two weeks later, everyone’s critique of our writings are due. The critiques are done in the “sandwich method,” which means they start and end on a positive note and in the middle are the constructive comments about flow, characters, plot speed, and any other issues the writer or critiquer may have. It works because we all understand that our writing can always improve and we are not shy about receiving criticism because of the positive way in which it is given.

One of our members is a memoir-writer, one writes prose that is often in short story form, one is writing an edgy young adult novel, one writes women’s commercial fiction (what used to be called “chick lit”), and then there’s me, a novel writer. What I love most about reading their work is that it’s so different from what I write; I love reading something different once in a while. I respect them all for their amazing abilities in their chosen genres. I sometimes feel ill-equipped to offer critiques on their work, since I don’t always know the nuances of their genres, but they know that and they can always feel free to take my suggestions with a grain of salt.

The nice part about an online group is that we submit our writings and our critiques electronically, so if I don’t have time to submit my writing or my critique until I’m in my pajamas at 11 o’clock on a Monday night, that’s okay. I can work and submit whenever I want before the deadline, and if I’m a day late, that’s okay, too. You can’t do that in a face-to-face meeting; if a group member is unprepared in a face-to-face group, that member doesn’t benefit from a critique and the other members don’t benefit from that member’s suggestions.

I also have a critique partnership with a wonderful woman who is writing a satirical romance novel. She and I trade work once a month and give our critiques over the phone. Again, I can be in my pajamas if I want, but I have to be ready to critique at the appointed time, or we both suffer. I love the flexibility of this critique partnership; we decide during our phone call when we can both be ready for our next submissions, and when we have time to discuss our critiques on the phone. It works well and I’m really enjoying and benefitting from the experience.

So that’s how I view critique groups. They probably don’t all work as well as mine, but that’s why movies are made. And I have to admit, our group works so well that we would make a pretty boring movie.

Have you had any positive- or negative- critique group experiences? I’d love to hear about it.

Until next week,

Amy

Who’s Your Muse?

Do you have a muse? Do you know what a muse is? I had heard the term bandied about, but never really understood it’s meaning.

So I looked it up.

The word “muse” comes from the nine mythological goddesses who presided over the arts and sciences. There was a goddess for lyre playing, epic poetry, comedy, history, and astronomy, among others.

So what is a muse in modern parlance? I guess you’d define it as the source of creative inspiration, and it’s usually a person.

I have always read about authors and songwriters and artists and their muses. For F. Scott Fitzgerald, it was his wife Zelda. For John Lennon, it was Yoko Ono. For Alfred Stieglitz, it was Georgia O’Keefe.

As I thought about muses throughout history and the artists and writers they inspired, I got thinking…who’s my muse?

And the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that I don’t have one. There is no one person who inspires my writing. And I consider this a good thing. I noticed while I was reading about historical muses that the relationships between them and their respective artists were often toxic and depressing. They frequently seemed unhappy and lost. And I don’t want to cause the people around me to feel any of those things.

I am inspired by places and by nature. I love to read about people and locales all around the world, and so I suppose it’s natural that I would choose to write about those same things. I want to inspire people to visit the places in my stories. My first book takes place in the Thousand Islands in upstate New York, and if I can get my readers to want to know more about the Thousand Islands, then I’m happy. My second book is set in South Carolina, near Charleston, and I hope I’m able to describe it well enough that readers will be able to share the experience of being there. My third book will be set in Hawaii. The islands are a feast for the senses, and I want to share that with the people who read the book.

I’d love to set a story in New York City (where I used to live) or in South Jersey (where I live now). I’d love to set a story in San Francisco (where I’ve visited) or England (where I’ve never been) or in Scotland (also, where I’ve never been). When I visit someplace new, I take lots of pictures and maybe even some notes about interesting things and people I see. I keep maps of the places I’ve been, because they can be helpful in setting a story.

I get inspired by people, too, but I could not refer to any of them as my muse. The inspiration these people provide is not creative, but motivational.

Do you have a muse? Or are you inspired by something else? I’d love to hear about it.

Until next week,

Amy

Hop to It!

As promised in my last post, I am “tagging” people today in the blog hop. I hope you’ll visit their pages and read what they have in the hopper, so to speak.

The first is Amy Simonson, and you can find her at http://www.reluctantblogwriter.blogspot.com/.

The second is Ronnie Hammer. She is located at http://morristownmemos.wordpress.com/.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by my blog this week and to those of you who continue to hop to these blogs!

Until next week,

Amy

Blog Hopping!

This week’s blog is coming a little early. I’m participating in a blog-hop at the invitation of Joyce Ann Brown, author of some very fun cozy mystery stories. I recommend a visit to her blog at http://www.retirementchoicescozymystery.wordpress.com.

So here are my answers to the burning questions:

1. What am I working on now?

I am currently working on my second novel, with a tentative title of Low Country Twilight. It’s the story of a restoration specialist who moves from Chicago to South Carolina with her little girl to restore an old plantation manor. While there, she discovers that the members of the household have hidden vices and secrets, and she slowly gets drawn into a web of suspicion and distrust that affect her job and her future happiness. I am enjoying the story and my goal is to have it finished by Easter. It is due to the publisher on June 1st, so I will have between April 20th and June 1st to revise and rewrite.

2. How is my writing different from others of the same genre?

My books are considered women’s fiction with a strong sense of suspense and setting. I like to write about places I know well, and I hope that the love I have for the places I write about shows in my stories. Though my books are in the genre of romantic suspense, they contain light, sweet romance and suspense that is not too violent or gory. I like to write the types of books that I read.

3. Why do I write what I do?

That’s easy, and I have already given the short answer: I write what I like to read. Growing up, one of my favorite authors was Phyllis A. Whitney, author of a huge number of romantic suspense books and my personal hero. She was a prolific author who wrote past age 100, and her protagonists were always strong women who dealt with adversity head-on and came out stronger for it.

This is not to say that I don’t love other genres, too. I am a huge fan of historical fiction and biographies. I also love thrillers. If you read some of the older posts on my blog, you’ll see that I simply love books, and my favorites run the gamut from Jane Austen to Ernest Hemingway to M.C. Beaton.

4. How does your writing process work?

I have addressed this issue in past blog posts, too. I like to plot out my stories long before I start writing them. I make up my characters and their personal histories. I like to plot out the scenes before I stitch them together. I draw pictures of the places where the action occurs. I research, research, research. I get an entire story written down before I start revising. I keep a list of things that I know need extra attention on the second pass-through, but I don’t do any rewriting until the story is completed.

I love every single minute of the writing process, whether it’s research, plotting, writing the first draft, revising and editing, writing the final draft, writing any draft in between, doing copy edits, or doing page proofs.

This blog hop didn’t ask, but I figured I’d plug my first book anyways, which is coming out in July 2014 by Kensington Publishing. It’s called Secrets of Hallstead House. It is the story of a young woman who moves from Manhattan to a secluded home in the Thousand Islands to take a job as the private nurse to an elderly woman. While there, she discovers that the people who live on the island harbor dangerous secrets that she was never meant to learn. She must face those secrets if she is to stay alive and find happiness.

I invite you to visit my website at http://www.amymreade.com or to follow my blog and leave comments on the things you read. I usually post on Tuesdays on subjects ranging from writing to reading to volunteering to things to do for fun.

I also invite you to stop by again to see who I’ve tagged next in the blog hop!

Until next week,

Amy

Sources for Readers

Writers are readers. Most of them have bookshelves spilling over with favorite books and ones they haven’t had a chance to read yet. If they’re anything like me, they have a list of about a hundred or more books that they want to read next, if only there were enough time in the day.

I know many of the people who read my blog are avid readers, too. So today I’m blogging about websites (and a couple other places) that are great for readers. They run the gamut from review websites to organizational websites to websites that will help you decide what to read next.

The first one, and my current favorite, is Goodreads. You can find and make friends on this site who have similar tastes in books, or you can use it on your own. You tell Goodreads the types of books you enjoy, then put titles on your virtual “Want to Read” bookshelf. If you wish, you can alert your friends when you’ve started or finished a book. You can review the books you’ve read or you can simply rate them (using a system of 1 to 5 stars). The more you use the site, the better the site becomes at pinning down the types of books you like to read and recommending other titles in your preferred genre. Just this week, a friend of mine reviewed a book that I’m going to pick up for my son. He’s always looking for good books, and I know he’ll love the one my friend read. Check out Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/.

One great website I discovered recently is at http://www.whatshouldireadnext.com. This is great for people who are looking for books that are similar to ones they’ve read and enjoyed. It’s simple to use: you just type in a title or an author’s name. A title or list of titles will come up and you click on one of them. You’ll be given a list of authors and titles that are similar to the one you typed. This is a great way to discover new authors that write books in the genres you like to read.

Shelfari is another website worth checking out. It’s at http://www.shelfari.com. Full disclosure: it’s owned by Amazon. Like Goodreads, it can help you catalog your books, allow your friends to view what you’re reading, what you want to read, your reviews, and your ratings of books. You can also join or start an online discussion about a book you’ve read.

Another website I follow is called Shelf Pleasure. It’s at http://www.shelfpleasure.com. Though generally for women, anyone can join or benefit from it. The site has recommendations and reviews for book lovers, author interviews and live chats, and an online book club. I always enjoy reading the different blogs on this site, but I especially enjoy the monthly blog entitled “Will Travel for Words” by Karen A. Chase.

A good website to check out if you’re interested in a book club might be http://www.onlinebookclub.org. There is a Book of the Month that you can read and discuss (as I write this, it’s still March and the Book of the Month for March is Inferno by Dan Brown). There are countless other discussions going on about lots and lots of other books, too- not just the Book of the Month. There are also book reviews, fun discussions that you can join (such as “Books that have made you cry?” or “Dating someone who doesn’t read?”), and a page on up-and-coming authors and new books.

One place where I have found lots of great book suggestions is http://www.npr.org. Or you can just listen on the radio. You will often hear author interviews and book reviews. One of the best interviews I’ve heard lately was with the author of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Mohsin Hamid. He was fascinating, and though I haven’t had a chance to read his book yet, it’s getting closer to the top of my TBR pile. I’ve read a number of books by authors who have been interviewed on NPR, and I’ve never been disappointed. I encourage you to check out this great source for readers.

Last, but certainly not least, is your public library. I encourage you to visit the library, not just its website. The local library is a great place to learn about all kinds of classes, workshops, clubs, trips, activities for kids and adults, and of course, books.

I’d love to hear where you go for great book recommendations and reviews.

Until next week,

Amy