Tag Archives: reading

CONFESSIONS OF A LATE BLOOMER

This article was first published in the online literary magazine Women Writers, Women’s Books (booksbywomen.org)

My name is Josephine Strand and I’m the author of my first published romance novel, Misty Dreams, released in April 2021. I’m what is known as a literary late bloomer. Three years ago, I was a soon-to-be novelist past the age of sixty, and utterly unprepared for the work that goes into publishing a book—before and after it’s out in the world. Years of insecurities and setbacks prevented me from taking my craft seriously. I didn’t think I had it in me to write anything good enough to share with the world. I hope to inspire new writers with my story, and perhaps help them avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way.

Since my teens, writing has always been like a hobby, a sort of creative outlet. In my twenties, I wrote short stories and novellas, drawing inspiration from the famous authors whose books I read. I didn’t have a routine; I wrote when inspiration struck, and at my own pace, without the fear of failing or of anyone critiquing my work. When years later I was struck with the idea for a full-length, standalone novel, I went into it with the same casual, freewheeling approach.

During what I call the disillusionment period, I wrote the initial draft of Misty Dreams. I was living in Italy at the time, and although I was fluent in both Italian and English, it made more sense to write it in Italian, my native language. When my husband and I made the life-changing decision to relocate to the United States, my inner creative was shut down for years. The adjustment to a new country, a new job, a new life, left little time for fantasies. It was much later that I was seized by the desire to resume writing. I was going through empty nest syndrome and needed a distraction, so I dusted off my manuscript and started working on it sporadically. I translated it into English and played around with it, updating references to places and events to make it current. In the process, I was making it better and better, surprising myself. It was then that I began to see the possibility of turning it into a book. I was pleased with the result, and being able to share it with the world would represent the ultimate reward for all my hard work.

But I had a huge problem on my hands. Literally. In years of erratic writing patterns and utter disregard for wordcount, my manuscript had grown to around 360,000 words. And that was just the beginning. My writing hadn’t been seen by any eyes but my own. I had never belonged to a critique group or discussed my book with anyone. That’s when I knew I needed help.

My first step was to find an editor. I needed a professional to do a developmental check and reassure me my manuscript wasn’t a total train wreck. Besides, something had to be done about the length, and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. It was thanks to my editor that I was able to shrug off my insecurities and take those dreaded final steps. Ultimately, through her expert advice and guidance, I was able to shrink my manuscript to just under 90,000 words. It was a daunting process, painful to say the least. Separating the manuscripts into two books would have been the easier way out, but the idea of ending Book 1 on a cliffhanger didn’t appeal to me. Thus began the slaughtering. It wasn’t just a matter of eliminating redundant words or tightening sentences; it meant cutting off scenes and killing off characters deemed ‘unnecessary’ to the advancement of the story. It was like cutting off pieces of me, one limb at a time.

It was during the final revisions that I began to query agents and publishers. I wasn’t holding my breath; the chances of a first-time author snagging a contract from a traditional publisher were a drop in the bucket. Since I wasn’t getting any younger, I allowed myself six months for the querying process. I submitted dozens of letters, only to receive a handful of polite rejections in return. I had lost enough time and I didn’t want to be stuck on publishing the old-fashioned way. One way or another, I was going to bring a book into the world, and if that meant jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon, then so be it.  

The decision was easy, but I was facing another quandary. I was going to have to promote my book myself. I didn’t have a strong following, and I had no clue how to go about getting my book into the hands of potential readers. I was social media-shy, and the idea of setting up advertising platforms seemed overwhelming. The huge amount of work to get my manuscript to marketable standards had taken up all of my time and energy, so that there was none left for building visibility as an author. I created a website but had nothing to put on it. I had a manuscript that was getting the last touch-ups, a bunch of cover designs I couldn’t decide on and was querying agents and publishers. I told myself I couldn’t possibly find time to create content for Facebook and Instagram to promote my book. I realized other debut authors were way ahead of me. They had a blog, a newsletter, a street team to cheer them on, as well as ARC readers pledging to post reviews on release day, and they were planning launch parties. It was a sobering discovery.

Since then, I’ve come a long way in overcoming that last hurdle. Yes, I was late to the party, but I showed up for it. I made up for lost opportunity by dedicating myself wholeheartedly to improving my marketing skills. I don’t have a huge following, but I’m working on it, acquiring more confidence along the way.  Writing my book has been one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, and now as a published author, it continues to give me joy through the feedback I’ve gotten from readers. But I regret letting my insecurities get in the way of my writing. I could have saved myself a lot of time if I had believed in myself a bit more. The best advice I can give new writers is, don’t let self-doubt and lack of self-confidence hold you back. Learn the fundamentals of writing and become more competent in your own abilities. Finally, look beyond your goal. Writing a book doesn’t end at the words ‘The End’. There’s so much work to be done, before and after the publishing process. Ultimately, all this can be immensely gratifying almost as much as the writing itself.


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Review: Of School and Women, by D.S. Marquis

Of School and Women by D.S. Marquis is a riveting, nostalgic dive into the past. It’s brilliantly written and humorous, cleverly mingling cultural nostalgia with great life lessons. I wasn’t living in the United States during the 80s, but in all democratic countries the same fundamental changes in standards of living were taking place, and similar critical societal issues were being felt worldwide. It was like hopping into a time machine and being brought back to a simpler way of life, of better social communication, and a time when we were devoid of today’s existential worries.

Lynette and Marie are two college students in Tallahassee, Florida, who despite their different personalities become fast friends and confidantes, while navigating life’s challenges with bravery and resourcefulness. Through their commitment to their education and work, they are determined to put past mistakes behind them and build a foundation for a better future.

The story touches on some sensitive themes, like drinking, drugs, domestic abuse and human trafficking, though the details are woven naturally and casually into the narrative, without weighing it down. It paints a vivid picture of life before the internet and social media, when interpersonal relationships meant getting together and enjoying each other’s company, or simply showing up to apply for a job. The unrestricted comings and goings in Lynette’s workplace are a great example of the higher degree of freedom enjoyed back then, when circulating liberally in airport terminals was a luxury no longer accessible in today’s society.

D.S. Marquis does a phenomenal job of recreating the spirit, the vernacular and carefree, unhindered lifestyle of the times, tapping into her own experiences as a college student. The characters are vibrantly relatable, each in their own captivating way, the narrative attention-grabbing. It certainly gave me more than a few smiles while reading.

Not quite fiction, nor non-fiction, but thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking. A refreshing, evocative read, one I recommend to all readers over 18.

BOOK TALK: How I got hooked on reading

When I was a young girl, the local library was one of my favorite places in which to spend the afternoon hours. It was before the internet, even before computers made it into our homes. It was where my friends and I would meet to do research for a school project, do our homework, or simply take out new books to read. There was always an excuse to go to the library.

When I think about my childhood, the same memory invariably pops to the surface, the one of when I visited the local library for the first time. The passage of time may have enhanced the visual aspects, but the memory is real, as are the feelings it aroused. I can visualize the exact moment it happened and feel the same wonder and delight at seeing so many books all in one place. A whole new world had opened to me, and I was hooked. Nothing made me happier than bringing home new books to read. Being a new immigrant in an English-speaking country, I struggled at first, but as my understanding of the language improved, I was enthralled by the countless stories I could read.

Like most typical seven-year-old girls, I was initially drawn to fairy tales. Their magical allure pulled me in, transporting me to wondrous places inside my head. But best of all, they all ended in a happily-ever-after. I later discovered classic children’s books, like Little Women and Pollyanna, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But my favorite of all time is Anne of Green Gables. I read all eight books numerous times through the years. I was fascinated by Anne’s hyperactive imagination and upbeat attitude, and by her ability to make people see the world differently, even the most cynical ones, like the grumpy Marilla. I’m delighted to say that it’s my daughter’s favorite classic as well, and we long ago promised ourselves a trip to Prince Edward Island, which life’s circumstances have caused us to postpone several times.

As I grew into my early teens, my reading preferences extended to more modern adventure books, like The Famous Five and The Secret Seven series, by Enid Blyton. I went through a phase in which I was enamored with everything ballet, and devoured ballet novels faster than they could be written. My favorite were the Drina series by Jean Estoril. I’m pretty sure I read all eleven books in the series. It was around that time that I started to write my own stories. I’m firmly convinced that if Anne of Green Gables built me as a reader, the Drina ballet series made me as a writer.

What kind of books do you remember reading as a child and which are your favorite? Please let me know in the comments.

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Book Review

The Midnight Library, By Matt Haig

(Spoiler alert!)

As a fiction reader, I want to read books that are all-absorbing and make me forget the negativity of real life, stories that even if they aren’t all smooth sailing, pull me in and uplift my spirits. It has never crossed my mind to read a book that has suicide as a focal point. But when I read a review of The Midnight Library in my granddaughter’s school newspaper of which she is chief editor, I was intrigued. Being the book a New York Times best seller and a worldwide phenomenon, it was heavily promoted, and I don’t usually pick my reads based solely on its popularity. So when I decided to give it a go it was with a good deal of skepticism.

The Midnight Library is a brilliant mix of mystery, comedy and fantasy told through the eyes of Nora Seed, the 35-year-old protagonist. She has just lost her job and her cat, and feels her life has no purpose. Deciding to call it quits she overdoses on antidepressants. These details alone would have put me off reading the book, if not for that brilliant exposé in a high school newspaper (you have to love these budding journalists!).

While Nora is suspended between life and death, she finds herself in a library where she runs into her old high school librarian, Mrs. Elm. The librarian tells Nora she can pick a book from the shelf and find a new life for herself in which she could find happiness. Each book Nora picks allows her to experience a different life path. She’s given the opportunity to explore other possibilities, such as follow her music career, pursue her swimming talent, or become a glaciologist, but each life either ends in tragedy or makes her feel unfulfilled. Each time she ‘enters’ a life she feels optimistic she’ll finally find happiness, only to return to the library disheartened. After yet another disappointment, Mrs. Elm tells Nora there is no more time left and she needs to pick her last book. After this last attempt at a new life, Nora realizes she doesn’t want to die, after all, and that her true happiness is in her root life.

This book has a clear message: there’s no point in tormenting oneself over what-ifs. Imagining a different life doesn’t necessarily mean it would be a better one, and as Nora realizes, “It is not the lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy.”

Despite touching on heavy topics such as death and suicide, the light and deeply philosophical tone of the book kept me engaged and left me with a good feeling inside. The romantic angle and HEA were certainly the cherry on the cake for me.