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I visit Starbucks a few afternoons a week to write. This is twofold stimulation. The lattes, which at the moment means pumpkin spice or gingerbread, have plenty of caffeine to accelerate my already over-active imagination. If you add a snowman sugar cookie complete with a chocolate icing hat and green scarf, well then, the caffeine/sugar rush is anti-productive for cohesive creativity which is why at that point people watching becomes appealing.

People watching is a fun sport for a writer. It helps us form those all-important character types in our mind. The characters I create are a combination of many different people and a few that probably don’t exist except in my head. The fun part about breathing life into these characters that have become more real to me than many of my beloved friends and family, is only revealing a few significant physical details about them to my audience.

One of the most important aspects of reading is letting the reader control their own visual imagery. Except for revealing that Victoria (the heroine in my debut novel Benjamin) had a lot of brown hair, unusual blue eyes, and was slight of build, I never described her in more detail. I have enjoyed listening to how my readers envisioned Victoria based on my scarce information.

Some thought her to be tall and skinny, others short and petite. Some believed that charisma was her greatest draw while others may have assumed she was attractive… especially if they didn’t think she was all that charismatic. It really doesn’t matter that not one reader would see her exactly as I had created her.

No two people see us the same way. It depends on how that person defines physical beauty (which varies widely among people) or character such as kindness or good decision-making. Not to mention how we often misinterpret a person’s intentions or unfortunately allow our own personal baggage to taint how we define someone’s attitudes or actions.

This is why we should never take it personally if someone doesn’t ‘get’ us. It rarely has anything to do with us, and everything to do with them.  This is hard to abide by or believe, but nonetheless true. It is also why we love to bond with characters in a book, knowing they cannot misuse, abuse, or reject us. In fact, they do not expect anything at all from us. It is through this process of interpreting and relating to characters in a book that we begin to understand ourselves better.

That is a gift those who do not read will never have. It is a gift that great writers give to us through unforgettable characters and the fact that reading provides a study of human behavior on a safe non-interactive level is also a gift of stress-free time out from, well, actual relationships.

So, while shopping this holiday season you might want to consider how there is no greater gift for a person’s emotional wellness, mental sharpness, or ability to experience great joy, than while reading a good book.

Here’s a list of my favorites this year, guaranteed to give a few hours of stress-free joy to someone on your Christmas list. All of these books are in the same genre I write – literary suspense. (No surprise there really.)

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark takes place in India where you learn a lot about the country and one aspect of its history while growing to love the families placed within this setting. It is some of the best writing I have seen in a while.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay takes place in France and again, you learn a little something about this country and culture along with a significant aspect of its less-that-pleasant history, while growing to love the families placed within this setting. I have not read a more thought-provoking book.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave has been out for a couple years but it has stuck with me in many ways. Widely varying perspectives of two women from different cultures, countries and economic status. The real clincher is that this book was written by a man! Bravo to Chris, who did an excellent job of being in these heroines’ heads.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh gives insightful information about the foster care system, which is not a pretty sight as painted by this author. It also teaches us about the language of flowers. Initially this wasn’t impactful for me, but as the story progresses I was reeled in emotionally like a hungry fish after a fat worm.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison is marketed incorrectly as a psychological thriller I suspect because thrillers are the bestsellers but on the other hand, those in my book club were perplexed by it not being what it is marketed to be and that makes it harder to appreciate for what it really is – a character rather than plot driven Gone Girl.

My last selection just happens to be on sale this month for $2.99 as a Kindle or Nook download.  Yep. Benjamin… by yours truly. If you choose to download, read and review it, my gift to you will be a personally signed paperback edition.

‘tis the season.


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