From Reader to Writer: Morning Pages

I’ve never been much of the diary type. I have a crate full of journals and a moderate journal-buying obsession, but if one were to scour the contents of these books, they’d find mostly random thoughts, embarrassing poetry, and doodles of rose vines and cats. While I always have a journal with me to record ideas or to regurgitate intense emotions, I’ve never been good at keeping a daily journal. I always start with good intentions then either forget completely or make excuses for not continuing.

Back in 2016, I discovered The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and it revitalized my creative process. It challenged me to reflect deeply and to make a practice out of writing. One of the vital elements of Julia Cameron’s method is to write morning pages every day. Recently, I’ve decided to go through Cameron’s 12-week process again and have been reminded of the importance of doing the morning pages as often as possible.

What Are Morning Pages

Morning Pages are three, long-hand, stream of consciousness pages of writing done every day, preferably in the morning right when you wake up. They can literally be about anything. They should never be shared and really, you shouldn’t read them for at least eight weeks. Most people destroy them after writing them.

Why Would You Do This?

I see it as a clearing. It sweeps away all of the things that clutter your head. From anxieties that you need to let go of or ideas that you don’t want to forget, the morning pages give you a space to exist in written form. Writing long-hand instead of typing on your phone or computer is a way to ground and re-center you without technology. There is something comforting about putting pen to paper and just letting the words flow in any way.

This is excellent training for writing a first draft. First drafts are tough. It’s important when starting out that you just get the ideas on paper. Revision and critiquing comes after the words get down, but it’s hard to turn that filter off even when writing the first time around. Morning Pages trains your brain to turn off that internal critique and let the words flow.

I’m not going to lie. I only get my morning pages done about half the time, but when I do get to them, my brain feels so much clearer. As I keep going through The Artist’s Way program in hopes of re-invigorating my creativity, I definitely am working to make morning pages a habit for both my mental and creative health.

Would you ever consider writing morning pages? Perhaps maybe give The Artist’s Way a try? Let me know what you think, and I’ll keep you posted as my writer’s journey continues.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Last House Guest

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

First line: I almost went back for her.

Summary: Littleport, Maine is a small coastal town that spends half the year catering to the wealthy visitors on summer vacation. The Loman family is the richest and most prominent family in the area. One summer the Loman’s daughter, Sadie develops a friendship with a local girl. They become inseparable. As their friendship grows, Avery is brought on to manage the family’s local rental properties and other business ventures in town. Then one summer everything changes. Sadie is found dead. The police rule it as a suicide but Avery feels like things do not add up. Who could want to hurt Sadie and why?

My Thoughts: This is a perfect read for summer vacations. It is set on a coastal town with beaches, bungalows and bistros. While reading it I desperately wanted to be sitting outside with a cold drink.

Miranda does a great job a spinning a tangled web. The story jumps back and forth between the summer Sadie died and the next one without her. But at the same time we get glimpses farther back into Avery’s past as well. There seemed to be so many possibilities for the ending. I was shocked by the big reveal at the end. The last 50 pages fly by so fast. It was hard to put down.

FYI: My favorite Megan Miranda books is All The Missing Girls. It is fantastic. The story is told in reverse. You would think it would give away so much but it does not. Both of these books are perfect for your summer reading list!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Mistress of the Ritz

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

First line: Blanche is dead.

Summary: Blanche Auzello, the wife of the Ritz hotel director, is living a beautiful life in Paris until June 1940 when the Nazis invade. They take over the grand hotel and life changes drastically. Life under the occupation becomes strained especially for Blanche who is hiding a secret that could potentially harm her and those she loves. However, she and her husband are determined to do what they can for France and the staff of the Ritz, even if it means their lives are forfeit.

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of Melanie Benjamin. Her novels are always very interesting and filled with fascinating women. I had never heard of Blanche or her husband before picking up this novel. It sounds like life in Paris was very tense during the occupation but not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. It seems as if people continued to live life as normal as possible during those years.

Melanie Benjamin at Watermark books on May 28, 2019.

One of the issues I had with the story was that it seemed to almost center on her husband, Claude, rather than her. He references her often and thinks about her during his chapters but he almost takes over the narrative. And strangely I enjoyed his storyline more than hers. He could be a jerk but his story was more interesting except for when Blanche was with her friend, Lily.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn’s book, The Alice Network.

Lit Pairings – NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
 
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

I’ve been in a reading slump for quite awhile now. Do you ever get in those? No matter what genres I picked up nothing could keep my interest! So what made me think a 692 page book would be the right thing to pull me out of my slump??? Well first of all NOS4A2 has been adapted into a TV series on AMC that started on June 2. The previews looked amazing and I hate to watch a movie or TV show that’s been adapted from a book without first reading it. And second the author Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. I’ve never read Hill before, but he’s been on my list for a long time and I’d heard great things about his writing style. NOS4A2 didn’t disappoint! It was just what I needed to get myself reading again. Now I just have to hope the TV series does the book justice.

I know you’re thinking this is an odd book to pair food with. And you would be 1000% right about that, but I loved the book so dang it I’m going to make it work! Instead of doing the obvious Christmas themed treats I want to focus more on Vic’s summertime at Lake Winnipesaukee. At the diner “Terry’s” she and her parents would have Frappes (you can’t call them milkshakes). This article will explain the difference between the two and give you a great recipe. I don’t think any summer diner experience could be complete without a really good burger. This recipe is great for those yummy thin burgers that are cooked on the griddle and get all kinds of crispy around the edges.

This is one of those books that you can enjoy in summer or around the holidays. I hope you decide to give it a read and maybe get inspired to make one or both of the recipes listed above.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

First line: I’ve a thief to thank for finding the one person I need to see before I die.

Summary: Elise Sontag, a fourteen year old girl from Iowa, has her life turned upside down when her father is arrested on the suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. Her family is sent to an internment camp in Texas where she meets her best friend, a Japanese girl named Mariko. They spend several months together before Elise’s family is deported back to Germany. In the hopes of keeping their friendship alive the two exchange letters but it is difficult with the ongoing war. However, Elise keeps up hope that after the war ends she will be able to return to America and see her best friend again.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. The last several books have not been as good as Secrets of a Charmed Life which was my first book I read by Susan Meissner. It is a topic that has not been talked about much and it could be because it is embarrassing but it is our history and we need to acknowledge it. And learn from it too. I cannot imagine how shocking it would be to have everything taken from you and being forced to live in basically a prison. Then to be sent back to a land that they had left or never even lived before. Especially with a war on and cities are being heavily bombed. How do you rationalize that?

The time spent in camp was actually a very small part of the book. Most of it took place in Germany after Elise’s family is repatriated. I liked listening to her story as she navigates this foreign land in wartime. She did not speak German which put her in a tight spot since the Germans were at war with America. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves a story set during World War II.

FYI: Definitely check out Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Some Girls: My Life in a Harem

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren

First line: The Shah’s wife was unfaithful to him, so he cut off her head and summarily declared all women to be evil and thereby deserving of punishment.

Summary: Jillian Lauren was an eighteen year old NYU dropout when she hears about an opportunity to earn $20,000 by going to the country of Brunei as a guest of the billionaire prince, Jefri. What starts out as a two week trip ends up as an eighteen month stay in the prince’s harem.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed listening to Jillian’s story. But at the same time I was shocked. She grew up in a rather normal family. She goes to NYU for a theater degree but dropout and works as a stripper and escort. Then she travels to a foreign country in hopes of earning big money for a short stay. Who does this? I guess I grew up too sheltered in small town Kansas.

However, her time in Brunei is fascinating. The wealth and splendor of the rich is unbelievable. If you have seen Crazy Rich Asians then you know what I am talking about. She is given jewels, clothes and cash. She went on a shopping spree that basically had no spending limit! Even though she got lots of material possessions she never was happy. It is an interesting look into another lifestyle. I don’t completely understand it but I did find it a great read.

FYI: Language and explicit details about her life as an escort.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Wyoming

Working the front desk gives me lots of opportunities to talk about books with patrons and give suggestions. Recently, one of my favorite patrons asked if I had read any Zane Grey books. I told him that I had only read one, Betty Zane, which was one of his first novels about the heroine of the American Revolution.

“In memory of Elizabeth Zane whose heroic deed saved Fort Henry in 1782”

About ten years ago while doing a family history project in college I learned from my grandmother that our family was distantly related to the author, Zane Grey. Through my research I found that my 6x great aunt married Ebenezer Zane, the brother of Elizabeth “Betty” Zane. How cool is that?!

On a trip to Ohio several years ago while doing some more family history research I visited the grave of Betty Zane. It is a wonderful monument to the strong young woman whose bravery helped save her family and Fort Henry.

Statue of Betty Zane at Walnut Grove Cemetery in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio.

On a trip to Ohio several years ago while doing some more family history research I visited the grave of Betty Zane. It is a wonderful monument to the strong young woman whose bravery helped save her family and Fort Henry.

He astoundingly had never read this one. I immediately interlibrary loaned it for him. And since I recommended that one for him he suggested I read his favorite Zane Grey novel, Wyoming.

Wyoming by Zane Grey

First line: When Martha Ann Dixon found herself on the open Nebraska road she realized with a shock that at last her innate propensity for running away from home had definitely materialized.

Summary: When Martha Ann Dixon, a young girl from Chicago decides to lie to her parents and hitchhike out to Wyoming to live with her great uncle, she does not know how her life will change. Along the way she meets a wide variety of people, some good and some bad. However, one man stands out, Andrew Bonning. He rescues her from some tramps along the road and gives her ride. Little does she know that they are both heading to the same place. As they get to know each other their feelings become stronger while they try to navigate life in the West.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed reading my second Zane Grey novel. It was a light and easy read. I am not much for love stories or westerns but it was a sweet novel. I did get a little frustrated with the stubbornness of the two main characters. It reminded me of Pride and Prejudice in that way. The supporting characters are sometimes the most fun though. Even though he is considered one of the “bad guys” at a point in the story, I enjoyed the scenes with Texas Jack. He was a true cowboy and added a little bit of humor to the story. The one thing I really had trouble with was the writing. It was good but when it is in the western vernacular it can get hard to understand and read easily.

FYI: If you want a nice western love story than this is a good one for you!


What’s Ashley Reading?: Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait

The only surviving piece of Dusseldorf’s City Palace, the birthplace of Anna of Kleve.

On my most recent trip to Germany I had the privilege to visit Dusseldorf and Schloss Burg, the home of Anna of Kleve. Before I visited my brother in law told me about this castle. I knew I had to see it for myself. It was a long hike through the woods and up the hill to this fortress but it was worth every step. It overlooks the town of Solingen, a picturesque town in Western Germany. Even though very little is mentioned about Anna at the castle it is where she spent much of her childhood leading up to her marriage to King Henry VIII.

Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait by Alison Weir

First line: Anna peered through the window of the gatehouse, watching the chariot trundling through below, enjoying the rich sensuousness of the new silk gown she was wearing, and conscious of her parents’ expectations of her.

Summary: Anna of Kleve is the daughter of a German duke. She is raised to be the wife of a powerful man. When Henry VIII is unexpectedly widowed, he is in search of a fourth wife. His ministers look to Anna for this honor. As Anna embarks on the journey to England she worries about what her life will be like as the Queen of England. After her initial encounter with her future husband her worries mount. Does he like her? He does not appear to. However, as the first months of her marriage progress her worries begin to vanish. Then she receives news that the king has grave doubts about their union. What does this mean for Anna? Will he send her to her death like one of her predecessors?

Anna’s father and brother’s portraits from the entrance hall at Schloss Burg.
The entrance to Schloss Burg, the home of the Dukes of Kleve.

My Thoughts: Anna is probably one of the least talked about of Henry’s wives. I have read numerous books about the other five but she seems to be largely forgotten. This is rather sad because she was probably the luckiest of the six wives.

I really enjoyed learning more about her life before, during and after her marriage. She led such a sheltered life before coming to England. I cannot imagine the shock of life in Henry’s court compared to Kleve. And the fact that her husband is an obese man who had killed a previous wife. How terrifying! Her reign as queen was a very short lived one. However, she seemed to have made quite an impression on the people of England. I was very frustrated reading about the struggles she had to deal with after the death of the king. She was an important lady and was treated very badly by the men who ran the government of the new king, Edward VI.

A stunning view from the tower of Schloss Burg.

Weir took a lot of liberties with the history by adding in a romance that has no basis in fact. Even though it deviates from the record it was fun to read and imagine that Anna had some love in her life.

This is not a book that can be read quickly. There is tons of information, characters and time to cover. I spent several weeks slowly working my way through the narrative but I found it fascinating. Weir does a great job bringing life to the wives. I am highly anticipating her books on Katheryn Howard and Katherine Parr.

FYI: This is book four in the Six Tudor Queens series by Alison Weir.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Warrior of the Wild

Warrior of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller

First line: An ax swings for my head.

Summary: Rasmira has been training for years to be a warrior and gain her father’s approval. On the day of her trial she is sabotaged and sentenced to banishment in the wild until she completes a task set by the council. No one ever returns from the wild. However, Rasmira is determined to finish her mission and take revenge on the people who caused her downfall. But how do you kill a god?

My Thoughts: Tricia Levenseller can write a really fun novel! There is no big world building or complicated story lines. It is straight to the point and loads of fun to read. I immediately was hooked on Rasmira’s story. I liked how tough she was. I truly felt sorry for her when she is sent into the wild. Everything that she thought she knew was destroyed. I enjoyed her interactions and friendship with Iric and Soren. They are destined to be friends but it takes a lot for Rasmira to accept them due to past prejudices.

This book really reminded me of The Valiant by Lesley Livingston. There was a lot of action and it was a quick read.

FYI: Check out Levenseller’s debut duology, The Daughter of the Pirate King.

Random Reading Thoughts: The Challenges of Reading a Series

Hi blog readers! I’ll be writing a monthly blog post, which will be posted the first week of the month. As the title suggests, each post will be some random thoughts I have about reading. Hopefully, they’ll be thoughts that our readers will find interesting as well.

Poison Study, Book 1 in the Soulfinder series by
Maria V. Snyder

Today, my thoughts have been swirling about book series. I love reading a good series, but sometimes a wrench gets thrown into the works or something else comes up that makes me long for more standalone books. For instance, an author has several books out in a series, hasn’t completed it, but stops writing to pursue other writing adventures (I’m looking at you Jim Butcher and Chris Grabenstein!). Or, a series gets marketed and advertised and sold as a trilogy (yay! only three books!) and then turns into a series of way more books, but now I have to wait a whole year for each book in the series.

Or, along the same lines, you start a series with the first book, and now you have to wait a whole year for each new book. I find myself wondering why I didn’t just wait until the series was finished before I started reading. I’m so impatient to start the next book!

Magic Study, Book 2 in the Soulfinder series by Maria V. Snyder

And that leads me back to what started me thinking about series in the first place. One of my book clubs read a fantastic book last month, the first in a series. I gobbled down the first three books in the series and immediately grabbed book four. Opened it, and realized that some really important stuff had happened that I had no record of! Lo and behold, the author interrupted the series and wrote a related trilogy based on one of the characters, and those three books have all the good stuff I missed. So, I’ll be reading those three books in anticipation of getting back to the original series.

I can’t decide if I’m annoyed with the author for doing that, or looking forward to getting more of the story from a different character’s perspective and seeing more of this fabulous world she’s built. What about you? How do you manage series? Do you wait until they’re finished or do you devour each book as they come out? Drop us a comment below and share what your favorite series is, as well as how you prefer to read them.

Fire Study, book 3 in the Soulfinder series by
Maria V. Snyder

PS: The series that has every bit of my attention right now is the Soulfinder series by Maria V. Snyder, and the trilogy that tucks in the middle is her Glass series.