My Reading Goal of 101 Novels

Heather Sellers’ 2007 writers’ guide Chapter After Chapter encourages anyone interested in becoming a better writer to read 101 Fiction Novels.

Heather Sellers' Chapter After Chapter encourages writers to read at least 101 novels.

Heather Sellers’ Chapter After Chapter encourages writers to read at least 101 novels.

In December 2016, I set out to do just that, having suffered an injury that was keeping me from working like most, one that continues to plague me even today.

Other complications and illnesses have been added since, making working and concentrating even harder, but thankfully, I’ve been able to keep reading, and on Nov. 29th, I put down Javier Marías’ The Infatuations, book number 101, satisfied and fulfilled in a way I could not have imagined two years before.

You see, while I have been physically disabled the past two and a half years, I have been able to mentally travel around the world and through time through the power of fiction.

I’ve made a study of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, the three geniuses edited and managed by Maxwell Perkins. Through them I’ve been bullfighting in Spain in the 1930s, been all over Italy and Europe during World War I, and Paris afterward.

Then through various authors I’ve been in Paris as the Germans invaded it during World War II, and in many ways I felt what it must have been like, to have gone from such heydays after World War I with the Lost Generation to the starkness of the Nazi invasions, their lists, the killings.

But I’ve also been to Australia for a road race around the continent in the 1950s with Peter Carey in his book A Long Way From Home, and returned to experience the power of Big Little Lies with Liane Moriarty; experienced The Plague in Africa via Albert Camus, a non-existent war in Africa during Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, and been to South America for a hostage situation via Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. (I’ll read  anything now written by Ann Patchett–Commonwealth was so good, too.)

I have been to Tennessee and South Carolina to figure out the mystery of the woman who stole river children in the 1900s for adoption in Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours. (Lisa is under the impression US senators ride around in limousines all the time. Reporters should know better.)

My thinking about trees was forever changed by Richard Powers’ The Overstory, one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. To think about living in the canopy of a redwood in Oregon for nine months, 100 feet off the ground. Something I’d never thought of, but might consider, given the chance and with better health. A wonderful, wonderful book that haunts me now whenever I see someone cutting down a tree because I know how long it takes for a tree to grow, the history behind it and how we snuff out a tree with a chainsaw and don’t give it a moment of thought.

Gosh, I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve been to England. Ian McEwan’s Atonement. What a great story about the power of love. Don’t forget to also read his On Chesil Beach. If you want to read some of the first murder mystery genre setting books, don’t forget John Fowles’ The Collector, who kidnaps a woman he fancies and drags her off to live in his flat north of London. The Lodger is another prolific book that brilliantly explores the murders surrounding the mystery of Jack the Ripper. Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje was also one of my favorites from my journey.

Then there are the books about the States. The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel remains a favorite, a story about a boy who shows up in an Ohio town the summer of 1984 claiming to be answering an ad in the local paper calling on the Devil to present himself. Steven King’s The Outsider was something new for me. It wasn’t scary, but definitely a different read. Tommy Oranges’ There There shed new light on the Native American culture I did not know about. A.J. Finn and The Woman in the Window, Ottessa Moshfegh and Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation, as well as Lauren Weissberger’s When Life Gives You Lululemons all gave me new perspectives about the modern woman.

Celeste Ng took me back to Ohio in Little Fires Everywhere, a very good book, and Rachel Kushner seemed to have much the same thematic in The FlamethrowersFac Ut Ardeat (made to burn); perhaps that theme was also being explored in The Summer that Melted Everything as well. Even Stephen King’s The Outsider.

Thomas Wolfe intrigued me for days with his You Can’t Go Home Again. The language and writing is beautiful.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. Funny, at times. But with an important message nonetheless.

Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin was strange to me at first, but I came to enjoy the writing once I got my bearings. The initial passages about the blind assassin himself, and the girl, were just strange, and I’ve found I’m not much for reading sci fi or dystopian nonsense.

I also flat out skip sections in books about explicit gay sex. Chloe Benjamin, Adam Haslett, take note. Your books were good, but I skipped large portions of The Immortalists and Imagine Me Gone and don’t think I missed anything, which means, those sections could have been left out (note to authors, agents and publishers). Those sections didn’t add anything. And in the case of Andrew Sean Greer’s book Less, once I learned that’s what it was, I’d actually ordered it from Amazon, I cancelled the order. I have no desire to read anything like that. Period.

I’ve read my share of spy novels: Daniel Silva’s The Other Woman, T. Jefferson Parker’s Swift Vengeance, Karin Slaughter’s Pieces of Her, and the over-hyped ridiculous Bill Clinton/James Patterson The President is Missing.

In Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone I spent time in Washington state and Oregon, and then the wilds of Alaska. This was not a great book by any means, but people recommended I read Hannah’s The Nightingale and I honestly believe it is the best book I’ve ever read. Goodreads has it rated at a 4.65 or something close and that seems to be the highest rating I could find. I highly recommend this book above all the rest. It is the one I described above as helping me understand what it must have been like when the Nazi’s invaded France in World War II. Maybe you should read some of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and their antics in Paris beforehand to learn about how gay and charming the city was 10 years before, that way you may get the full impact.


I’m going to start revising my second novel once again, with new knowledge.

And I’m going to keep writing.

It’s my 53rd birthday today and I’m getting a copy of War and Peace. I’m planning to also read Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov as a study in the next few weeks. I also need to finish Anna Karenina. The movie version is good, but not good enough.

I also have asked my girls for a series of books that PBS and my local book store, Interabang Books put together this summer–100 supposed best loved novels–that I intend to read. Some of them I don’t think belong on the list and won’t read, but a good many I will. Some I already have and just have never read.

The goal in all of this is to make me a better writer, but what it’s also doing is making me a better person. Opening my mind and horizons. Making me think and relaxing my soul. My body is not in a condition to do what it once was able. I’ve been doing all I can the past two and a half years to get help from doctors to get it fixed. In the meantime, I’ve been getting my heart, mind, soul and writing ready for when I am free to walk normally in the world again.

Two years later, that’s the greatest gift I can give myself.

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

This weekend I finished reading The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut. I enjoyed her book. It made me think a lot about about chance and choice, the two pivotal points that intertwine the two main characters of the book.

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut is a great read and one that will have you thinking about chance and choices.

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut is a great read and one that will have you thinking about chance and choices.

Imagine the person you had a crush on in high school, the one who never paid you any attention, but they filled your most every thought and desire. And then years later, you’re working as a prison psychologist and they’re bought in for murder.

Now the first thing that should happen is the shrink should never see the inmate for ethical reasons. But this is fiction. Or maybe it’s a close parallel to reality. The doc wants to find out why the inmate committed the murder. IF the murder was committed by the inmate, after all, that didn’t seem like it could happen in high school.

And of course, the inmate doesn’t remember the doc, but all of a sudden has this guy bending over backwards to help.

There, you have a chance.

The rest of the book are the choices the two make because of the chance situations.

The Passage of Time

Debra Jo has written for years. In fact, she said the other night during a signing at Interabang Books in Dallas that she began writing the book almost 20 years ago and queried it and got nowhere with it. So she put it in the drawer and let it breathe while she had a life. She got married. She had a son. The story itself matured, as did her writing.

So many years later, she revised the story and made some changes, queried, and found an agent for the book.

The rest is history.

The Captives

You will enjoy reading The Captives. The writing is good. The tension is steady and there are good twists in the story.

Reading it also reminded me of Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, (BTW Ottessa will be at INTERABANG BOOKS in DALLAS on JULY 21) which I read two weeks ago. It, too, is about a person working in a prison and involves a shrink/educator. But the ending is far different.

Debra Jo is an excellent writer and encourager. We talked about my present plight. I’m querying for my second written of three novels, The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club, and as she signed my book, reminded me that the journey along the path to getting published is key. And even as I write this post, another rejection just came in. But I forge on. I simply must.

You can order your copy of The Captives from Interabang Books, by visiting their store, or of course, via Amazon, but if you’re local in Dallas, I encourage you to visit the store. You’ll love the people there and the atmosphere is wonderful. When I am published, I will be having signings there, as sure as the sun comes up in the east.

(What else have I read lately? Here is my Reading List on my way to my first 101 counted and reviewed books….)


A Tree’s Life At McDonald’s — Billions and Billions Served

A Tree’s Life At McDonald’s — Billions and Billions Served

My local McDonald’s has murdered two huge trees–one because a branch fell on a car. The other, is guilt by association. I took pictures of the carnage in yesterday’s post. Today I counted the rings of one of the trees and then compared the McDonald’s service history to the growth of the tree.

Do you know how many customers it took McDonald’s to serve for that tree and its accomplice to reach their lofty heights? As long as it took for McDonald’s to serve “Billions and Billions.” As long as it took for McDonald’s to quit saying how many billions of customers they have served.

From my counting of the rings, the tree sprouted in 1965. McDonald’s served 1 billion customers that year.

The timeline of McDonald's Billions and Billions served vs. how long it took for this tree to grow--they're almost the same.

The timeline of McDonald’s Billions and Billions served vs. how long it took for this tree to grow–they’re almost the same.

In 1970, the tree was five years old, and McDonald’s had served 5 billion people. By then, almost the number of people on the planet.

In 1980, 50 billion were served by McDonald’s and the trees kept rising toward the heavens.

In 1990, 80 billion were served, and you can see the enormous growth of the tree.

In 1994, McDonald’s reached their 100 billion served mark and stopped counting.

But to be fair, somewhere around 1995 or so, the tree caught up to that 1 billion it’d missed out on–McDonald’s had reached 1 billion by 1963, two years before it began growing.

Then came the new millennium.

Then add the spring of 2018 when a branch fell on a car in the parking lot of McDonald’s in Mesquite, Texas.

After providing shade to customers at the east end of the parking lot of this store, a branch fell from a healthy tree. One of two tall trees standing majestically on the lot separating it and a dry cleaner.

Men showed up one day with a wood chipper. One of the operators looked like he didn’t know what he was doing like he’d lose an arm himself in the contraption.

Two weeks later, the two trees, after McDonald’s had served an untold number more customers, the beautiful, green crowns of the trees were gone. All that remained were the mutilated trunks of the trees, lying there like dead bodies one might see in old Civil War photos.  And remaining next to them, their stumps, which tell the story above.

McDonald’s murdered these two trees because a branch fell on a car. Both living, vivacious and healthy trees that had grown up with the franchise and served the environment of Mesquite, Texas, like McDonald’s has served people around the world.

But one branch fell and that was enough for McDonald’s to kill two trees. Two healthy trees.

The Overstory

In Richard Powers’ novel, The Overstory, a character goes and counts the rings of a fallen tree just as I have done. He does it because he, too, is sickened that people so carelessly murdered a tree. At least in the case of the story, the tree was harvested for the wood it would yield. In this case, the tree was chopped up. There is a nice mulch bed, but the rest was mutilated it appears. A total waste of 50 or more years of growth from two trees because someone was too lazy to do a little maintenance on two trees, provide some shade, and keep two viable, living trees in the ground.

The Overstory is a great book about the life of trees. Reading it has changed my perspective about trees. Had I not read it, I’m not sure I’d be this upset about what McDonald’s has done. But I am sickened by what McDonald’s has done because it was nothing short of murder. As they say in the book, trees are part of us. And part of all of us died when McDonald’s murdered these two trees the way they did.

The Rings Tell The Story

Here’s the tree rings.

The rings of one of the trees murdered by McDonald's in Mesquite, Texas because a branch fell on a car.

The rings of one of the trees murdered by McDonald’s in Mesquite, Texas because a branch fell on a car.



My Local McDonald’s Murdered Two Trees

My Local McDonald’s Murdered Two Trees

Last week I finished reading Richard Powers’ The Overstory and it has changed my view about trees, forever. This morning, I took clothes to my dry cleaners at the corner of Belt Line Road and Cartwright in Mesquite, Texas. Actually, they’re not on the corner, a McDonald’s is. Last week, when I was dropping off clothes, I observed two guys who looked like they were determined to cut off their arms shoving in a branch into a tree mulcher. Today I returned to find that two viable, huge trees that were at least 40-50 feet tall had been cremated and cut to shreds.

McDonalds Trees

What remains of two huge trees McDonald’s MURDERED after a branch fell on a car parked in their lot.

I was in shock. The trees had full crowns of green shady leaves. When I asked the girl at the dry cleaners what had happened, she said a branch fell on a car.

I went into the McDonald’s, which I seldom do, and the checkout girl said the same thing. “It was a mess,” she said.

So instead of trimming heavier branches on the tree where the branch fell on the car, THEY CUT THE WHOLE TREE DOWN AND CUT A SECOND ONE JUST LIKE IT DOWN, too.

The Corporate Line

Now I get corporate liability and the canned answer McDonald’s will offer. if they respond at all.

“We cut the tree to ensure the safety of our customers, our first priority next to good, healthy food. The safest thing for us to do was to remove the two trees.”

That’s a lot of bunk. And it appears to be the line that’s been sold. A branch fell on a car, more could fall on other cars, we can’t have that.

The ‘Every Tree Is Entitled to One Branch Falling’ Legal Theory

I guess they were using the theory that every tree was entitled to one branch falling, like every dog is entitled to one free bite.

But these were two HEALTHY trees. Two trees with HUGE crowns, and they were healthy. In all likelihood, the one branch that feel got whipped around in a recent strong wind and fell.

Maybe McDonald’s could have done more to trim over-extended branches.

McDonald's Trees

The trunks of two trees McDonald’s MURDERED because a branch fell on a car in their lot.

But instead, my local McDonald’s murdered two trees.


What’s worse, is they clearly didn’t do anything with the actual wood from the tree except cut it up.

Pictures are included of what’s left of the trunks.

The day the men started shredding that branch, I had no idea they were going to cut the whole tree down, let alone BOTH trees. There was absolutely no visible reason for them to do so.


Now I do not regard myself a tree hugger, no not one bit, but I know waste when I see it and this was an abomination. This was a crime against nature. You want to get all uppity about what kind of beef vendors use and whether they’re using GMOs or letting the cows roam free, I don’t give a hoot about that nonsense.

But Richard Powers’ book, The Overstory, changed my view of the world of trees and made me more sensitive when a corporation like McDonald’s does a dumbass thing like cut down two viable trees. No, murders, them and wastes their resources because a branch fell on a car.

McDonald’s. This was wrong. It’s going to take years to replace what you did. YEARS. I understand the liability and minuscule payout your insurance has taken because a branch fell on a car. In the scheme of things, it doesn’t equal out to killing two healthy trees. It just does not.


A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

In my writing and reading, I am studying Earnest Hemingway. That led to my reading of A Moveable Feast, published in 1964 after he had died. The version I have includes a foreword by his son, Patrick, and an introduction by his grandson, Sean. There are also many newly released sketches about his son Jack and his first wife, Hadley.

A Moveable Feast, my review of Ernest Hemingway's book.

A Moveable Feast, my review of Ernest Hemingway’s book.

Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds

The chapters about F. Scott Fitzgerald and the subsequent descriptions including his wife, Zelda Sayre, formerly of Montgomery, Alabama add a new level of color to the first celebrities of the Jazz Age. (Check out the short film I did last summer on Zelda as a ghost in Montgomery–going back home one night and visiting her old haunts in modern Montgomery.)

Hemingway paints a picture of Zelda that is anything but flattering. He all but says that Zelda ruined Scott’s writing career out of jealousy. Fitzgerald is portrayed in firsthand stories that show why he only produced a limited number of books in his career.

For instance, when they first met, Scott invited Hemingway to take a train with him from Paris to Lyon to retrieve a car Scott and Zelda had left broken down. Hem arrived at the train, but Scott did not. Hem boarded, Scott did not. Hem arrived in Lyon, and Scott arrived an hour later.

Hem booked a room and wired Zelda where he was staying, but the message never got to Scott, who found Hem the next morning. Then there was the matter of where the two would eat breakfast. Zelda apparently hated cars with tops and so theirs had none and it was raining that day. Scott and Hem made it an hour before they had to stop in the rain. Once they stopped for the day, Scott said he felt like he was catching his death of cold. Hem kept insisting that he had no temperature and that he was fine.

Scott insisted he was dying. He insisted Hem find a thermometer. The pharmacy was closed. Hem found a waiter who located an odd thermometer which he told Scott, “You’re lucky it’s not a rectal thermometer.” No temp, but that didn’t satisfy Scott.

But after some doing, he then went downstairs to call Zelda and talked to her for an hour. This, he assured Hemingway was the first night the two had spent apart since they’d been married. The way Hem told it, it was a gross case of co-dependency before anyone used the term. The whole bit makes one wonder how stable Scott was himself. Then to see how Hemingway portrays the constant fighting between Scott and Zelda is eye-opening.

The first season TV series on Amazon shows they have a contentious relationship but Hemingway paints a much harsher picture. At one point they are arguing with their chauffeur from France about whether or not they can put oil in their car, or whether or not their driveway is theirs or not.

But there are a few segments of the book where Hemingway writes about writing. “On Writing in The First Person,” Hemingway says that if a writer does a good enough job, “you make the person who is reading … believe that the thing has happened to him too.” He goes on to say that if one can achieve this it will “become part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory.”

The observations and sketches about living in Paris in the early 1920s are colorful and enjoyable. He shares what it was like to live poor and to work hard at honing his craft. He was in love with Hadley and focused, intent on becoming a serious writer and loving living in what he felt was the best place in the world to be a writer at the time.

The chapters about Gertrude Stein and her calling Hemingway’s “the lost generation” are informative, as well as his summation that every generation is a little lost.

I enjoyed the read and will likely go back through this one a couple more times in my studies. There are Easter eggs hidden here among his feast of words.

My Reading List

In 2016, I began reading like a madman. In those days, my revisions to one of my manuscripts were in full swing and I intended to get a better idea of what was selling in the way of novels.

There’s only one good way to accomplish such a feat–reading everything in sight.

And so I did, and still have a stack of books with me constantly that are in a To Be Read pile.

I encourage you to check out my Reading List.

Thanksgiving and Week 31 of Julia Cameron

Thanksgiving and Week 31 of Julia Cameron

In that time I’ve not missed a single day of Morning Pages. I’ve had my mom and daughters tell me, when I’ve encouraged them to follow suit, that they can’t do something like that–write something daily where they must commit to writing three pages before doing anything else every day. Mom says it feels heavy handed.

I even had a doctor two weeks ago tell me that “it’s hardly traditional medical therapy.” He scoffed. He was asking what I was doing to improve my mental health while I’ve been recovering from my back surgeries, getting off ten-and-a-half-months of opioids and trying to put my life back together.

He can doubt it all he wants. I know what it’s done. It’s brought me closer to God. My Morning Pages have helped me focus on what’s most important. They have helped me understand what I have to be thankful for. And as my daughters and I celebrated our Thanksgiving early this past Sunday, I kept those things in mind.


Now what I’m thankful for in large part is my own business. There are some obvious things. My church family. The love of my God, my daughters, my dear dog–Maycee. My own family–parents, brothers, and sister. A handful of church friends who have become what Julia Cameron calls my reflecting mirrors. People who are positive and supportive. People who give me encouragement and who are supportive to me as an artist. Who help feed me with positive support and ideas. People who are safe to share ideas with and who won’t make fun of me because I made myself vulnerable. I am blessed to have these rare and few people in my life and to have take comfort in their kind words.

May art has thrived because of them.

I still struggle daily because of what has happened to me. It’s been 18 months now and I am still afflicted with pain. This past week a doctor told me that a secondary aspect that I was not aware of may not ever go away–a result of the opioids, one that I had before that has been compounded because of the opioids–migraine headaches. It’s Monday, Nov. 21. I have an entry in my phone from Nov. 21, 2016–a year ago today that notes being hardly able to do anything because of my headaches. A year later, the pain is not much better, in spite of a high dosage of a med called Trokendi. I’m functioning but their are side effects, and I have had my present numbing headache for seven days now. I’m not thankful for that, but I’m doing my best to manage.

Julia Cameron

I have come to enjoy the days when I do work in Walking in this World, the third book of the Julia Cameron self-improvement trilogy. My mentor, Suzanne Frank from SMU says she believes it is the best of the three books and I can see why she says that. There is so much that is good in this third book.

Used to be I would put on Facebook about the progress I’d made on writing in The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. I’m not doing that anymore, and I know why now. It does drain energy from the progress of the book when it’s done. Tis far better to put that energy into the production of the work and safe it for when it’s done. So much so that I even hate to mention it here. So that’s it for now.

I keep a stack of books next to me for reference. They are great tools. Some of them I’m learning to memorize. And where would I be without my Smith-Corona Super-Sterling. Want to change how you write? Get a typewriter.

Time to get back to what I do. Writing.

I saw a post on the Internet today that has become more and more obvious to me. It says that the secret to being a good writer is 3 percent talent and 97 percent not being distracted by the Internet. Time to enforce the 97 percent….