The Top 5 Places this Book Nerd Would Love to Visit

Photo courtesy of Dariusz Sankowski, pixabay

I wrote this post for another site (Book Cave) that published it last week, but I’m going to share it here, too, because I’m hoping that you’ll all chime in with your favorite bookish destinations.

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A lot of people don’t like the phrase “bucket list,” but most of us have them. I like to think of mine as a Lifelong To-Do List. My list includes things like learning Greek, visiting Turkey, and taking a cooking class in Italy.

My list is a mile long and includes lots of other things, too, but because I’m a card-carrying Book Nerd (and I suspect some of you are, too), there’s a special subset of my list that I want to share with you today: Bookish Things. This subset doesn’t consist merely of travel to famous bookish places, but also includes things like relearning stories from Greek and Roman mythology (have you noticed a Mediterranean bent to my lists?), writing a piece for a national newspaper, and finishing every single book on my Kindle.

But the Bookish Things I want to share with you today are all travel-related, since in this time of pandemic, most of us can only dream about traveling. And what better way to daydream than to imagine myself in the most fascinating bookish places in the world?

With that, I present you with the top five places on my Book Nerd bucket list.

 

Hay-on-Wye

This village in Wales, population about 1500, sits on the border with England and is home to over twenty bookshops devoted to all manner of literary niches. And traditional bookshops aren’t the only attractions: there are also a number of honesty bookshops, which are simply shelves and shelves of outdoor “shops” with a cash box nearby. Readers are asked to put their money in the cash box before walking off with a book. There are even honesty bookshelves lining the wall of one of the castles in town. Yes, there’s more than one castle in Hay-on-Wye.

There’s something about browsing shelves of real books for hours on end that I find really appealing, especially at a time when so many brick-and-mortar bookstores are closing. And there’s even a store called Murder & Mayhem, which is devoted to the kinds of books I love best. I can see myself spending way too much time (and money) in there.

Hay-on-Wye is also renowned for its annual literary festival (cancelled this year), which takes place for almost two weeks in May and June and which Bill Clinton has referred to as “Woodstock for the mind.” I hear that the town’s population skyrockets to about 500,000 during the festival.

If you want to know more about Hay-on-Wye, I suggest these two websites: https://www.solosophie.com/hay-on-wye-book-town-wales-guide/ and http://www.hay-on-wye.co.uk/.

 

Jane Austen’s House

This museum is located in Chawton, Hampshire, England. It’s the place where Jane Austen spent most of the last eight years of her life and the place where she penned Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility, among others.

The collection at Jane Austen’s House includes the legendary author’s writing desk, some furniture, personal letters, and her jewelry, among many other things. Visitors can wander through her house and garden, which I think would be enchanting.

Want to add this place to your list of Bookish Things to Do? Visit https://janeaustens.house/explore/the-museum/ to find out more.

 

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

This museum, located in Key West, Florida, USA, is the place Ernest Hemingway called home for ten years. He lived in the home during one of the most prolific periods of his writing life.

The museum is also home to many descendants of the cats who lived in the home during Hemingway’s time there.

If you think this is a place you’d like to visit, click on the link to see the website. https://www.hemingwayhome.com/.

 

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Road Trip

As a devotee of Laura Ingalls Wilder from childhood, I would love to tour the places where she lived and which served as inspiration for her Little House on the Prairie series. From Silver Creek to Walnut Grove and well beyond, visitors can see where she lived (in some places, only replicas are available, but that’s okay with me) and played and farmed and taught.

Here are a couple websites you might find interesting: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/08/12/bcst-thread-books-laura-ingalls-wilder-road-trip, https://midwestweekends.com/plan_a_trip/history_heritage/ingalls_wilder/laura_ingalls_wilder_sites.html, and http://littlehouseontheprairie.com/historic-locations-and-museum-sites/.

 

The Mark Twain House and Museum

Located in Hartford, Connecticut, USA, this is the place where Mark Twain lived with his family from 1874 to 1891, when financial woes forced them to move to Europe. The house is a breathtaking example of American Gothic architecture, and it would be fun to tour for that reason alone. But to walk where Twain walked, to peek into the rooms where he laughed and wrote, would be a special treat.

If you’re a writer, the Mark Twain House and Museum also has classes, workshops, and a Writers Weekend. How cool would that be?!

To learn more about the house and museum, head to the website at https://marktwainhouse.org/. And you can even take a virtual tour by visiting this page: https://marktwainhouse.org/about/the-house/virtual-tour/.

Now it’s your turn. What’s on your Lifelong To-Do List of Bookish Things? Have you visited any of the places on my list? I’d love to hear about it!

Until next time,

Amy

The Genesis of an Idea

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of speaking at Career Day for one of my kids. The students who signed up to hear my author spiel were quiet, respectful, and asked some thoughtful questions. The question I received the most was “Where do you get your ideas?”

There are as many places to find ideas for stories as there are writers who write those stories.

This is what I told the kids: I start with my setting. I find that once I decide where my story is going to take place, the ideas flow from that. My first novel takes place in the Thousand Islands; as you might imagine, there are parts of my story that could only take place on an island in the middle of a river. My second novel takes place near Charleston, South Carolina, so a plantation great house has an important role in the story. Not every writer starts with a setting, of course. Some get an idea and the setting grows out of it.

One thing I told the kids on Career Day was that some writers get ideas from reading the obituaries. They read the obits and imagine things that may have happened during the lives of the people who have just passed, whether it was someone who survived the Holocaust or someone who emigrated from Italy as a teenager or someone who spent his or her life as a singer/songwriter. The obituaries are fertile ground for vivid imaginations.

Where else do writers get their ideas? How about newspaper articles? Some writers get ideas from reading the headlines and making up their own backstories. Some read regular columns and make up corruption and intrigue that amp up the excitement. Others use stories from their own jobs; there are more than a few ex-lawyers who use real legal cases in their books. The same is true with doctors and almost any other profession you can imagine.

Ever heard of the book Cape May Court House: A Death in the Night? It’s a book by Lawrence Schiller, an investigative journalist who studied a real case from Cape May Court House, New Jersey (not far from where I live), involving a husband, a wife, their daughter, and a tragic event. Though Schiller stuck very close to the original story, there are lots of real crimes that get fictionalized by authors who are looking for a realistic story line.

The last thing I told the kids was this: ask “what if?” every chance you get. You’re driving by an abandoned house. What if a murder took place there? What if the most recent owner was a recluse? Or you see a father strike his child at a grocery store. What if that father was stressed out because his wife just left him? What if that man wasn’t the child’s father? Maybe you see two people talking on a park bench. What if they’re undercover agents? What if it’s a clandestine meeting? The possibilities are endless.

So think of a place you’d love to set a story. Read newspapers and Internet news stories and the obituaries. Ask “what if?” every once in a while. You’ll stimulate your own imagination and you might just think of something fantastic.

Where do you get your ideas? I’d love to know.

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

What if Your Book Were a Movie?

I would be lying if I said I had never dreamed of having my first book picked up by Hollywood and made into a blockbuster.  So in the spirit of indulging a wildly optimistic imagination, I’ve decided to do the leg work for the casting people and make suggestions for the roles of the characters in my book.  By the way, it’s called The Secrets of Hallstead House and it will be out (in book form, not in theaters) in July, 2014, from Kensington Publishing.

The main character (I prefer to think of her as the star!) of the story is Macy Stoddard, a twenty-year-old nurse who moves from Manhattan to one of the Thousand Islands in upstate New York.  Her parents have recently been killed in a drunk driving accident and her boyfriend, unable to deal with her emotions following the accident, dumps her shortly thereafter.  She needs a change of scenery so she takes a new job.  Her new patient is an elderly woman recovering from hip surgery.  Macy learns of old secrets on the island that will change her future and that of all the others on the island.  As she learns about life on the St. Lawrence River, she also must learn more about her own past.

In my humble opinion, Macy should be played by Zooey Deschanel.

The two main male characters are Will Harper and Pete McHale.  Will is about forty and the nephew of Macy’s patient; Pete is in his early thirties and a handyman on the island.  Neither man thinks Macy should be on the island, but for different reasons.  I won’t say anymore about them.

Except that Will should be played by Edward Norton.  And my choice for Pete?  Casey Affleck.

Macy’s patient is Alexandria Hallstead.  She is seventy-two and runs a family oil company.  Determined and strong, Alex harbors a shocking secret that Macy doesn’t see coming.

I wonder what Dame Judi Dench is up to these days?  Other than starring in Philomena, of course.

There is an older couple, Valentina and Leland Bryd, that live on the island.  Both are miserable and want nothing to do with Macy.

I think Annette O’Toole would be delightful as Vali, and I picture Leland being played by James Cromwell.

There are two other characters in The Secrets of Hallstead House:  Brandt Davis and Giselle Smythe.  Brandt is in the Coast Guard and Giselle is a television news anchor.  I can’t really say too much about these two without giving away spoilers, so you’ll have to read the book to find out more.

For Brandt, I think Orlando Bloom would be great.  And Giselle can only be played by the great Naomi Watts.

So for all you casting directors out there, I’ve done the work for you.  All you have to do is make a few calls.

Do you have dream characters for your books?  I’d love to hear the people you’ve chosen!

Until next week,

Amy