#WriterWednesday: The Tension of Tenses

How does a writer choose whether to tell a story in past or present tense? Is it advisable ever to switch between the two? My answer below. xo!

Hi, Jenna: so, upon revisiting my project, I’ve found myself playing with verb tense. I want to jump into the quasi-near present day, and the present tense feels about right for that. Yet, I’m reading All the Light We Cannot See, and it is all in present tense about the past, which I love. In your experience, is jumping around verb tense a good idea? I suppose it varies story to story, but the section I am working on right now is only about 16 pages near the end if not the actual ending itself. What do you think?  ~ Dr. S.

#WriterWednesday: How To Start A Novel

“Dear J: I’m trying to start a novel because I feel the time is right, but I have no idea how to do it. Can you please give me some advice? Thank you! ~Madame S.”

* * *

Dearest Madame S:

Oh my goodness, I wish I knew. I am still trying to jumpstart two novels I have jostling in my head and they are elbowing each other trying to fit through the same small doorway (my brain), with a logjam result. If I had a magic novel-starting button I would certainly share it with you!

#FridayReads: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

True confession: until this past week, I’d never read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Somehow I was never assigned it in school, and although I have vague memories of the movie (Gregory Peck and something about a ham), my main association with the novel, aside from the admiration automatically accorded a classic, was gratitude to Harper Lee: she wrote one book, apparently decided a Pulitzer Prize-winner was enough, and capped her pen. Thereby giving solace to writers like me who don’t put out a new book every year. (“But look, Harper Lee wrote only one novel and she did all right!”)

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#FridayReads: SUMMER SECRETS by Jane Green

As a novelist, one could really dislike prolific & bestselling author Jane Green (17 NOVELS! SO FAR!) if she weren’t also such an utterly lovely human being. And if her books weren’t like cookies hot out of the oven: luscious, delicious, instantly grabbable, mandatorily consumable.

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Here, just in time for your summer vacation, is Jane’s latest novel: SUMMER SECRETS. I had the pleasure of reading a fresh-off-the-sheet galley, and as I do with all of Jane’s books, I a) read it instantly b) didn’t do anything else until I was done reading.

I’ll share with you (SNEAK PREVIEW!) a couple of things:

#FridayReads: IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT by Judy Blume

Like almost everyone else my age, I grew up reading the Judy Blume books, even though I am, alas, not related to her (and although I do have an aunt Judy Blum!) So as soon as I saw Ms. Blume was coming out with a new novel for adults, IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT, I did exactly what a book blogger suggested I might do: “Admit it, you pre-ordered as soon as I said ‘Judy Blume,’ didn’t you?”

In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Indeed I did. And as soon as the novel arrived, I plunged into it with an alacrity I’ve rarely felt since I was a little girl sitting cross-legged on the floor of the Watching Bookshop in Montclair, NJ, sampling dozens of books as I tried to decide which one I’d spend my precious allowance on that week.

#FridayReads: EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU, by Celeste Ng

Dear Readers,

Happy #FridayReads! I just finished Celeste Ng’s EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU, which I enjoyed a lot. It’s a debut novel by a writer with an affiliation to my beloved Grub Street Writers, about how attitudes in and around a Chinese-American family in 1970s Ohio send emotional ripples from the parents to the children, with heartbreaking consequences.


A great cause-and-effect book of how our presumptions and misunderstandings can affect each other, EVERYTHING reminded me a little of THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER with its readability and emphasis on the sadness and destruction of secrets kept. But (& ever though I hate to talk smack about another writer) I thought the writing and premise in EVERYTHING was much better, with less melodrama and more beautiful similes (I always love a good simile!).


Dear Readers,

An insanity of excellent novels are being launched in the Boston area this week–by their authors! If you’re local, check out the launches. If you’re not, here’s your summer reading list!

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* Sarah McCoy‘s new novel THE MAPMAKER’S CHILDREN launches in Providence, RI. For more information/ to attend, please click here.

* Erika Robuck reads from her new novel THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE at Newtonville Books, Newtonville, MA, 7 PM. For more information/ to attend, please click here.

* Sarah McCoy & Jenna Blum (ahem) at Domaine BRING ON BLING Books & Bling event at Domaine, Providence, RI, 1-2 PM. For more information/ to attend, please click here.

*SPECIAL EDITION* #FridayReads on Saturday: Kate Southwood’s FALLING TO EARTH

Dear Readers,

In the wake of the deadly tornado in Illinois this past week, I’m offering a special edition #FridayReads on Saturday: Kate Southwood’s novel FALLING TO EARTH, a must-read for anyone interested in weather–and  fine fiction.

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 10.30.11 AMKate’s novel is set in fictional Marah, IL but is based upon the real town of Murphysboro, IL, which was destroyed in the Tri-State Tornado of 1925. In Murphysboro alone, 234 people died.

Mile-wide monster tornadoes are nothing new in America, although they are becoming more frequent as our climate shifts. One big difference between the Murphysboro, IL and the towns stricken by Thursday’s twisters: this time, thanks to advanced warning systems, two people died instead of 234.

#FridayReads: 2 Tales of 2 Marriages

Dear Readers & Book Club members: Today’s #FridayReads comes courtesy of The Book Club Cookbook, book club website extraorindaire!, who invited me to do a novel pairing–like pairing wine & food, but with novels.

Reader-chefs, today for your palette I have prepared for you 2 Tales of 2 Marriages: Courtney Maum’s I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN HERE WITHOUT YOU, newly out in paperback, and Richard Yates’ REVOLUTIONARY ROAD.

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You may remember me mentioning both novels as favorites–delectable in their own right. Put them together for your book club & you’ve got a whole new compare-and-contrast taste treat!

* Please come back next week for another #FridayReads. *

#FridayReads: DINNER WITH JACKSON POLLOCK: Recipes, Art & Nature, by Robin Lea

This week’s #FridayReads hasn’t been read yet, but it has been pre-ordered! DINNER WITH JACKSON POLLOCK: Recipes, Art & Nature.

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I bet he threw a lot of spaghetti sauce at the wall to see if it’d stick!



Sauce jokes aside, I am a big Pollock fan and fascinated with the idea that the famously misanthropic and alcoholic Pollock could also be a superb host and, apparently, had a penchant for baking.Talk about character nuance!

And the photography in this book looks luscious as well.