A Few Of My Favorite Things: 2016

As you most likely know by now, I’m a feeling-based writer as well as a feeling-based media consumer. And perhaps because this was an election year filled with an abundance of strong feelings (both high and low), I became very protective (more so than usual) over the energy I gave books, TV shows, and movies. Books were set aside and the channel was changed if the creation didn’t have a feeling I desired to fall into–no matter how well it was written or acted or directed.

(Yes, I know I sound like the Californian I am. I’m okay with that.) 🙂

Gigi reading over my shoulder
Gigi reading over my shoulder

So in the interest of sharing, here are some creative works–new and not new–from other creators (because, obviously I enjoy my own creations or I wouldn’t create them in the first place!) that I enjoyed diving into this year:

The Shining by Stephen King (Yeah, I know what I just said above, but I thoroughly enjoyed diving into this book. It has a lovely simplicity to it, a strong core, and a rich atmosphere. Plus…I knew the ending so I wasn’t bowled over by the horror.)

Northern Lights by Nora Roberts (My mom and stepfather visited Alaska this year so I reread this book to get into the spirit of their excitement. I adore Nora’s books and count this among my favorites.)

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (Ms. Abbott is a writer’s writer. This book is powerfully subtle, absorbing, and haunting.)

Brotherhood in Death by J.D. Robb (I can’t say what I want to about this book without ruining it. So I’ll just say…wow.)

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben (I enjoyed that the female main character was flawed and imperfect, but not a cardboard cutout. She wasn’t always likable, and that’s great. Women don’t need to be perfect, nor put on pedestals, nor pander to or prevent the male hero’s journey in fiction. All of those things have been done. This book was a refreshing perspective.)

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane (I just started reading this book and am completely immersed in the world–prohibition in the 20’s–that Dennis Lehane created. A terrific storyteller.)

A Wish for Christmas (My talented friend Christie Will directed this holiday film and it has all the warm and fuzzy Christmastime feels. Christie’s adorable daughter even has a cameo.)

Longmire (I know, I know, I’m late to this game, but I enjoyed the nod to the Golden Era of Hollywood with the character-driven pacing, the attention to subtlety, and the allowance for thoughtful spaces between thoughtful plotting.)

Jessica Jones (Fabulous. And too scary for me to watch at night.)

Justified (My friend Dara came for her annual visit and we binge-watched the first season. She’d never seen the show so it was fun to enjoy it all over again with her. Plus…Raylan Givens.)

Sixteen Candles (A movie with the best final few minutes of all time. Plus…Jake Ryan.)

Chelsea (As I said to my stepsister this morning, what Chelsea Handler is doing for single, independent women is what George Clooney did for single, independent men. Also, I think what she is doing with her show, with her voice, is so important. She is a package of authenticity, honesty, curiosity, wisdom, and humor.)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Runnin’ Down a Dream (I’ve already written about how much I *love* this documentary.)

Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child (In high school, I named our dalmatians Hendrix and Zeppelin. I love the music and the artists from the Hendrix and Led Zeppelin era, and this documentary was excellent–told in his words and focused more on the humanity, the heart, and the creativity, rather than the drugs, etc.)

Janis: Little Girl Blue (Sensing a pattern? Janis Joplin, what an amazing woman with a quest for expressing emotional honesty. Brave, brave, brave woman.)

Parks and Recreation (This show got me through post-election feelings. Strong character integrity, silly antics that remind me of my small town and my family–my mom is totally Leslie Knope–and a whole lot of heart.)

Apparently the themes of what I’ve enjoyed this year have been: strong characters–female and male–strong integrity, and a lot of heart. Well, to be fair, I always enjoy those qualities in people both real and imagined. 🙂

And here are a few things I’m looking forward to in 2017 (some new releases, some just waiting impatiently on my iPad for me to get to them):

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Echoes in Death by JD Robb

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead 

The Trespasser by Tana French

The Ex by Alafair Burke

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

In closing–I wish everyone a 2017 filled with stories that you can fall into and adore. May we be uplifted and remember that we’re all just humans on this planet doing the best we can. We’re all learning to fly (to quote Tom Petty). 🙂

xo Isla

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Romance Novels & Feminism

Do you see any conflict between being a romance novelist and being a feminist? Do you feel an obligation to interject socially conscious themes into your work? Are there authors you respect for their socially conscious stories? These are a few of the questions I was asked during a Q&A with Geek Girl Authority‘s Leona Laurie.

Here are a few soundbites from my responses:

“We’re at a time in our culture where long-standing and important issues are coming to light in a new way—including feminism—and I’m grateful to have grown up in a family that celebrates empowerment. When we empower individuals to feel good, do good and be equal players, I believe we lift ourselves as a whole.”

“In the genre of romance, Nora Roberts must have very strong shoulders because generations of writers are taking taller strides because of her.”

“My job is to tell the most authentic story that I can, each and every time, and I take that responsibility to heart.”

Check out the full Q&A here!

xo Isla

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The Beginning…

I am often asked how/when/why I began writing. So here’s a short bit about how/when/why it came about:

I’ve always had a vibrantly active imagination. Always, always. But as a kid, perhaps because I’m an only child, I didn’t realize that this was anything out of the ordinary. I thought everyone experienced stories bursting to life in their head like I did (and do), and I thought everyone had an intense drive to write them or act them out. And that’s exactly what I did throughout my childhood–either acting out stories with my best bud, or taking my grandmother’s typewriter, lugging it out to the old woodshed (no idea why the woodshed, guess it felt like a cozy writing nook) and writing stories.

Also as a child, I loved to read. Scholastic book orders were among my favorite events. But I wasn’t a sedentary kid either. I was always zooming around my super small community on my motorcycle (pretending it was a car, acting out stories, of course) and I was in many (many many!) theatrical and dance performances at the local theatre–always expressing feeling and imagination in a disciplined way (not much has changed there). Also, my father was a race car driver so on long trips to wherever his races were, I’d gobble up books, asking to stop in every city along the way for new, fresh reads.

As an adult, one summer I ventured to a fishing village in Florida to visit some family friends and I was desperate for some entertainment while sitting outside in the swampy heat (others were smoking inside), so I headed to the nearest Wal-Mart (the only place in that town to buy a book), and purchased three books by Nora Roberts. And I was hooked. I was home. Having never read romance novels before then, the whole experience resonated deeply within me.

Soon after, I moved to New York after being offered a position at CNN. Across the country from my friends and family, and knowing only one person when I arrived there, I spent a lot of time in my imagination as I wandered up and down the streets, through Central Park, along the Hudson River, investigating the feel and flavors of my new city.

Because I was largely alone–in a densely populated city–that time I spent in my imagination was important for me. It gave me company, it entertained me, and helped me feel connected as I learned the ways of this new life adventure I was on.

I remember one day having this very strong, very distinct feeling under the surface that I wanted to connect with. It wasn’t a neighborhood I wanted to go to, it wasn’t a store, it wasn’t a restaurant, or place. I trekked to the nearest Barnes & Noble, then the Borders bookstore, scanning the shelves, searching for the book that contained the feeling of the world my imagination craved to dive into. It was such a specific feeling that I was seeking, I roamed every aisle, every genre, and couldn’t find it on any page in any book on any shelf.

And I remember it dawning on me like a flash of light bursting in my heart: the story was within me. It was my story to write. So I went home, back to my itty bitty studio apartment on the Upper West Side, and I wrote that story.

Isla while living in NYC
Isla while living in NYC

That first novel, I’m happy to say, will remain locked away forever. It was me working through those initial  kinks as a creator, I suppose. But then I sat down and wrote Hidden Harbor and haven’t looked back.

I am so incredibly grateful for this career. I love the whole process (even on days where a lot of wrestling is involved), including the imaginative elements (the research, the what next-ing, uncovering the motivation), the discipline of writing seven days a week, the re-writing, the polishing. I love falling in love with the characters through their story. I love getting to know my characters each and every time and my favorite book is always the one I’ve just finished because their story is still within me, lingering.

And then I immediately move on to the next book. The story I’ve just finished is no longer mine. It’s for the readers. And my job is to let those characters be adored–hopefully–and to focus on the new story in front of me. A new story to feel my way through, new characters to fall in love with.

I love my job, and I’m so grateful to be doing a job that I love with my whole heart. I love the opportunity to live my dreams just as I love watching my characters strive for their dreams.

Dream big.
xo Isla