Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Best Gift

I know, I said I was on vacation this week and next, and I am, but I had to post, because...

...I'm published!

I'm so excited; this is the best gift I could ask for. Role/Reboot has my first published nonfiction piece! Please stop by and check it out:

It's about the weird world of online dating, and how I almost gave up - right before I met The One. Stop by and say hi!

And otherwise, have a wonderful holiday, and I'll be back for the January IWSG.

Happy Christmannukolstice and Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I'll Have A 777 Straight Up, With A Twist

If this is a 777, I'll take three, please.
Photo courtesy of:
When I first started blogging, I have to confess that I didn't understand the purpose of blog hops, challenges, themed recurring posts, or awards. What are these strange, alien customs, and why do people do them, I wondered? What could be the possible reason?

Well, a year and a half in, I look back on my naivete (and yes I am skipping the accent on the final 'e' because I can't figure out how to get it into my post, dammit), and shake my head. I want to tell myself, these things are great, you idiot. When you get tagged in one you don't have to come up with an idea for your post that week!

So I owe Loni Townsend a big THANK YOU, because she tagged me in the 777 challenge last week, and now I don't have to come up with my own idea for this week. She also said some nice things about me, but mentioning them would negate the self-deprecating, snarky tone of this post, so I'll just say she's great, and you should go read her excerpt: it's from her WIP This World Bites, which is releasing NEXT MONTH, and which I can honestly say is hilarious and intriguing and entertaining, because I got to read it a few months ago. So, go check it out!

There - wasn't that fantastic?? Good. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Now on to the 777 challenge. I'll let Loni explain what it's all about: "For the challenge you have to choose a WIP, go to the 7th page, scroll down to the 7th line, and share the next 7 lines or so."

Easy enough, right? Well, Loni sort of requested that I choose one of my nonfiction WIPs, which is a little bit more challenging, because they're all fairly short (i.e. much less than seven pages long.) So I cheated a little bit; or rather, I put a little twist on the challenge, and double-spaced one of these pieces, and hey! look at that: it's more than seven pages long, and usable for the challenge!

So, here it is:
The hike we were merrily attempting with borrowed sneakers, one water bottle, and two apples was nearly six miles round-trip, with an elevation gain of approximately 2,200 feet. It was the sort of hike we usually did with plenty of water and food, proper shoes, and a detailed trail map: a bit difficult but entirely possible for the average weekend hiker, as long as that hiker was prepared.
Of course, we didn't know any of that when we started climbing. We thought we were on a short jaunt that would end in a glorious view, and as time passed and the day grew hotter and the trail showed no signs of ending, we started to privately doubt our trusted informant, then to openly question her, then to wish we’d never met her.
Isn't this out-of-context thing really confusing kind of fun?

Now I'm supposed to tag people, and free them from the requirement of coming up with a blog post. Unfortunately, I cannot remember who has done this and who hasn't, and who's been tagged and who hasn''m (figuratively, not literally) taking a page out of fellow blogger M Pepper Langlinais's book, and I'm tagging all of you. 

That's right. If you're reading this, and you want to do this challenge, I say GO FOR IT. Let me know you did it and I'll give you a shout-out the next time I post...

...which will be in the New Year, because I'm taking the next two weeks off. So, take the challenge if you'd like, and comment here letting me know you did, and I'll visit you and then link to it when I get back.

In the meantime: Happy Holidays, everyone!! Have a wonderful Christmannukolstice and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dribbles and Drabbles and Drivels, Continued

I'm doing a tidbits and snippets post today, one more in my little Dribbles and Drabbles and Drivels series. You know, the one I started in October, and decided to make into a series. See how that works? It's nice to be the Supreme Ruler of something, even if it's just a little blog.

Here's what's on my mind this week:

1. I Literally Can't Use Any Other Word. Literally. 

I use this word a lot. In fact, too often. This is in spite of the fact that many literary and writerly types lambast the overuse of the word, lament its misuse, and mourn the loss of its original definition. I know what it means, of course. I know it doesn't mean the same thing as 'figuratively.' And yet, I can't help myself. Is there any better word to use when you really want to accentuate and exaggerate? Is there anything better for expressing hyperbole?

I think not.

And as you may have guessed, I sort of kind of like hyperbole. A little tiny bit.

So I'm going to just keep committing diction crimes and using it when I shouldn't.

Oh, and The Oatmeal has the best take on this that I've ever seen. Go read it.

2. Don't Be Such A Trope.

Because we all need more reasons to waste time, procrastinate, and get lost in the Internet Wasteland, some idiot genius (idiot-genius?) created an entire website about common modern tropes, and now I'm going to share it with you! I know, you can thank me later. Gifts are welcome, too.

What's that word again? You know, tropes: "commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clich├ęs in creative works."

I dove into while doing some research (once upon a time when I used to write fiction) and could not get out again to save my life. At least I enjoyed drowning. Go on, go for a swim. You know you want to.

(Disclaimer: you probably have to be a giant movie/book/TV/creative nerd like me to enjoy this sort of thing.)

3. It's Christmannukolstice Time!

Yes, I got another table-top tree. Yes, I'm still Jewish. No, I don't care that I'm not supposed to have one. It just makes me happy.

One year, I'll get a real tree ('real' as in 'enormous', because this tree is not plastic. No, thank you.) And then the heavens will open and pigs will fly and writers will all use the word 'literally' all the time and I'll be a real girl and there will be world peace and prosciutto will be prescribed to treat headaches and heart disease and I will have a magic tool that freezes time so that I can get enough sleep AND work AND write and...

What was I talking about?

Oh yes. Trees make me happy.

What are you up to this week? Do you have a tree/bush/item with holiday significance in your house? Literally?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Insecure Writers: More Confessions

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! The IWSG is an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

Happy IWSG, everyone. I hope you had a great, food-full, friend-full, grateful Thanksgiving, and have recovered from your tryptophan-induced overeating-induced comas!

I have something to confess today. This is hardly new: I'm Jewish, so I often feel guilty. Weekly, in fact. I wake up and feel that squirming in my stomach, and know that it's one of the days when I'll have to figure out why I'm feeling guilty. Sometimes, there's an actual cause, but a lot of times, it's just general life-guilt. When that happens, I root around in my personal pile of vices, minor misdemeanors, mistakes, and small faults, until I come up with one I can confess about. Since today is IWSG day, I thought it was a fitting time for this particular confession, which I've been putting off for a couple of months:

I'm not working on my novel.

I know, I know, I'm sorry! I'm beating my chest in guilt and repentance. I spent an entire month talking about it and pushing it and trying to get everyone intrigued about it, and then I continued complaining about it and posting about it and whining about research, and now I'm telling you it's sitting in a file on my computer, collecting virtual dust.

Here's what happened: I got distracted. No, it's really true. I was having trouble querying Cloudland, and I realized a few things: 1) I wanted to do something (anything) to make the querying process easier, and thought a few publishing credits couldn't hurt; 2) writing novels takes a really long time (if you're me, that is); 3) so does building a writing career (that includes getting paid); and 4) I'm impatient. Really impatient.

So I decided to change my approach, and took a creative non-fiction class. And I loved it. I started working on writing, editing, and polishing personal essays; on researching places to submit; on compiling lists of places to submit each piece; and then on submitting. Wash, rinse, repeat.

It's fun and time-consuming, and for a while, I tried to rotate working on non-fiction and fiction, but it turns out, I'm really bad at switching tasks like that. Also, to be honest, I'm enjoying the non-fiction. And not enjoying the fiction. Much. Or at all.

So last month I put my novel aside, and I'm leaving it there.

FOR NOW! For now. Not for always.

I'm a firm believer that in order to be a writer, you have to write, no matter what, but I'm also a firm believer that if it's not any fun, not even a little bit, you probably need a break.

So I'm taking one.

Whew, I feel better.

Don't worry, everyone. I will get back to the novel. Just...not right now.

Do you write anything besides fiction? Do you have more than one job? How do you juggle everything?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving for Writers

It's almost Thanksgiving, so of course that means it's time for an obligatory Thanksgiving post. I neglected to do this last year, but in my defense, it was my first Thanksgiving as a blogger and I couldn't tell a turkey from a sparrow if you roasted it in my face (pardon the terrible turkey metaphor, but it's another obligatory part of a Thanksgiving post.) It was also Thanksgivukkah, a wholly invented holiday during which American Jewish families were obliged to spend twice as long over dinner and eat twice as much as usual, all while playing dreidel, counting their blessings, and lighting candles, in order to satisfy the requirements of both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, so I was far too busy making room in my stomach for mashed potatoes and potato latkes to write my obligatory Thanksgiving post last year.

As a result, I now have to write a post that's twice as good as usual, to make up for it. But don't worry, I won't make it twice as long, because as we all know, I have brevity problems, and we'd still be here next Thanksgiving if I did. 

I decided that this obligatory post should be about writing, because the title says it should be. Also, I've been far too serious and sentimental in my recent posts, and it's time to get really serious and write about serious writer things. Without further adieu, I present the list of Writerly Things For Which I Am Grateful:
  1. Fun with Grammar: I'm a writer, so I get to be pretentious about grammar, and say things like "the list of writerly things for which I am grateful" instead of "a list of writerly things I'm grateful for," even though the latter choice sounds better and is less awkward, and might actually be more correct.
  2. Fun with Language: Similar to #1, being a writer entitles me to pontificate at length whilst utilizing a magnificent and multifarious montage of words, and to indulge in the pleasure of the occasional alliterative diversion. Of course, I might sound like a jerk doing it, but that doesn't make it any less fun. 
  3. Confidence: Writers work with supreme confidence; it's one of the pleasures of the job. I've never met a writer who suffers from a lack of confidence. That's why we all take part in the Secure Writer's Support Group once a month, to remind each other to be humble. 
  4. Sarcasm and Satire: I also get to use tools like irony, humor, sarcasm, and satire in my writing, and say the opposite of what I actually mean. This tool also works quite well in real life. 
  5. Reading Is My Job: This might be the biggest perk of being a writer, and one that, #4 aside, I am profoundly grateful for (for which I am profoundly grateful?): I have to read. No, really. Check any blog or book that gives writing advice, talk to any agent or editor, and they will all say the same thing: you have to read if you want to write. Since I was the child who had to be forced to put her book down and play outside, this requirement isn't exactly a burden.
I could go on, but I did promise to let you go before Christmas, so I'll leave my list with just one more writerly item I'm grateful for: you. Thank you for stopping by, giving my blog some of your time, leaving a thought or an idea or even just a wave, and making me part of your life. I appreciate it!!

What's on your gratitude list this year?  Leave a couple of items in the comments!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Don't Fish, So...

...I thought I'd hang up my sign and go writing instead.

Photo courtesy of

Yep, it's one of those "life is interfering with my life, and I need to buckle down and get something done" sort of weeks. If I don't visit you this week, I will next week, I promise.. 

See you next week!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New Life In The Concrete Jungle

Well my friends, I'm happy to say that I went to New York again this past weekend, and I did in fact avoid doing a swan dive across the pavement this time. I was happier about that than is probably normal. (But then I've never claimed to be normal.)

I was visiting the New Messiah, of course, but unlike the last time, I had no half-baked, hair-brained writing ideas to discuss with her. I'm too busy drowning in research and non-fiction submissions to brainstorm any new ideas or force my poor friend to soothe my insecurities. No, I was there purely for a visit, and a celebration.

You see, the New Messiah is pregnant. I know people get pregnant and have babies all the time, but she is my dearest friend, my "favorito" (another old nickname, always pronounced with a fake Italian accent and great gusto), and I have been jumping out of my skin to hug her and admire her growing belly and just celebrate with her since I found out, over six weeks ago. Any new life is a cause for celebration, but when people you dearly love create that new life, and nurture it and nourish it and create space for it to grow, it takes on a bright, vibrant, astonishing meaning.

At my core, I've always been in awe of pregnancy, but that awe fades so easily in the course of daily life. Awe is an overwhelming emotion, a giant, breathless, expansive thing, too big for the needs and pressures of the everyday. Pregnancy is miraculous, but it's too hard to focus on the miracle. It's much easier to grow accustomed to the idea and forget the awe, especially in my day job. I see prenatal clients all the time. I deal with the aches and pains: the sore lower back and the stiff calf muscles; the frustrating symptoms of sciatic nerve compression; the exhaustion and sleeplessness and worry. I treat the symptoms and try to soothe the client, and in the process I forget the fundamental miracle of it all.

And that's what we all do with awe, by necessity. We forget it; we move past it; we let it go, and go about our lives until something grabs us by the shoulders and whispers, urgently, Look. And then we do look, and we stand back and our jaws drop and our lungs expand with wonder. That's what happened this weekend.

I looked at the New Messiah, at the beautiful swell of her stomach ("do you think I just look ambiguously fat?" she asked, eyeing herself in the mirror) and felt overcome by awe. "You're building a life," I said, "Right now, right here, your body is making a new life."

Isn't that ridiculously beautiful? Women's bodies can make new life, without any conscious thought, without any directive: the cells double and quadruple, multiplying themselves into a dizzying array of bone and muscle and skin, stomach and heart and liver. Without any intervention on our parts, our bodies can build new human beings.

I salute you, pregnant ladies. I raise my glass of wine (I did all of the drinking this weekend; the New Messiah opted for almond milk and water) and I let the awe come pouring in, and it's as dazzling and broad as the sun. It's that beautiful.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Insecure Writers: Savage Courage

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! The IWSG is an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

Happy Wednesday, IWSG-ers! I'm continuing my recent IWSG trend of NOT writing about my own insecurities, but instead trying to offer some help, advice, inspiration, or wisdom. I'm not often always successful, but I am trying!

I've been thinking a lot about courage these days. It takes courage to live true to who you are, and to work from that place of truth - and if you're a writer, to write from that place. All the time. Every day. Even when the muse doesn't show up, or when the muse does a runner and it seems as if life is hanging all of its troubles on you, and the very weight of those troubles is enough to bring you to your knees. Still, you have to find a way to live and work and write from that place of truth. You have to dig deeply inside of yourself, to the darkest and heaviest places that have both buried and birthed your strength, and dredge up the courage to keep going. It can be a savage sort of courage, fueled by anger and frustration; or a tired sort, quiet and calm and lined with steel.

I've been reading quite a lot of creative non-fiction these days, and to me, one writer stands out as exemplifying this courage, both savage and quiet: Cheryl Strayed. My first exposure to her was this essay in The Sun Magazine, and I was floored by the sheer naked honesty of that piece. It's turbo-courage.

I was so affected by that piece that I kept reading her work. As I mentioned last month, I read Wild, and then I read Tiny Beautiful Things, and it's from the second that I'm going to draw today's inspiration. The book is a collection drawn from the Rumpus's Dear Sugar advice column, in the years when Strayed wrote as anonymously as Sugar, and both letters and responses feel more like beautifully crafted personal essays than advice columns.

The first thought for today is from a letter about envy. How can we not feel jealousy when others are succeeding, garnering book deals and awards and acclaim, and we are not? Strayed writes:
"I know it’s not easy being an artist. I know the gulf between creation and commerce is so tremendously wide that it’s sometimes impossible not to feel annihilated by it. A lot of artists give up because it’s just too damn hard to go on making art in a culture that by and large does not support its artists. But the people who don’t give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity. They've taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different sorts of artists, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check, that being genuinely happy for someone else who got something you hope to get makes you genuinely happier too."
The second thought is taken from a response to letter written by a despairing young writer, who worries that she "writes like a girl" and that she'll never have any success. Strayed's response is to not write like a girl, but to write like a motherf----r. To dig up that courage and get down to work and just work. It's the thought I'll leave you with for today, but I do highly recommend you read the whole thing:
"We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor. I know it’s hard to write, darling. But it’s harder not to. The only way you’ll find out if you “have it in you” is to get to work and see if you do. The only way to override your “limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude” is to produce. You have limitations. You are in some ways inept. This is true of every writer...You will feel insecure and jealous. How much power you give those feelings is entirely up to you."
Good luck, IWSG-ers! I believe in you.

When do you find yourself unable to write, and how do you write your way out of it? Where do you draw courage from? Who are you reading who's inspiring you these days?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The New Mrs. Collins by Quanie Miller

I'm happily turning my blog over to the crazy-talented Quanie Miller today, whose paranormal novel, The New Mrs. Collins, hit the proverbial shelves on October 13th. I can't wait to read this one! While I do, I'll turn this post over to Quanie (who, by the way, also writes one of the most thoughtful, funny, and insightful blogs out there. If you're not following her - well, what are you waiting for??) :

The Art of Saying No

A few weeks ago, I was on Facebook when I ran across a post by author Jonna Ivin:

“I have a great idea for a book. You should write it and we'll split the profits!”

Her response:  “Really? I have a great idea for an amusement park! You should build it and we'll split the profits.”

I got a good laugh out of that, and it really got me thinking about all the writerly things that people have asked me to do over the years:

Oooh, you know how to write screenplays? I have an idea for a movie! Translation: I’ll tell you my nebulous idea and you’ll mold it into something decipherable, we’ll sell the script, and I’ll get half for doing nothing and constantly asking, “So when do we call Stephen Spielberg?”

Can you check this document for spelling and grammar errors for me? Translation: I use commas like they’re going out of style. Can you fix this mess of a letter for me? I don’t want people to know that I have commasplice-itis. Help!

I need your help with a job cover letter. Translation: Every time I apply for a job, the HR person calls and tells me that “awesometastic” isn't a word. I need your good time, energy, and creativity to mold this into something that uses words from an actual dictionary.

Oooh! You’re a writer! You can help me write a grant!  

Oooh! You’re a writer! You can help me write my newsletter!  

Oooh! You’re a writer! I can totally exhaust you to the point where you have absolutely no more creativity left for yourself and to sweeten the pot, guess how much I’m going to pay you? Absolutely nothing! Woo-hoo! It’s a win-win!

I used to acquiesce to every request, afraid of appearing like a mean girl for telling people no, then something happened a few years ago that changed that. Someone asked me to author a screenplay for a film challenge. At the time, I was also doing developmental editing on the side, working full time, and writing the first draft to what turned out to be my first published novel. I said yes, participated in the film challenge, and was so worn out and creatively backed up at the end of that process that I became a sour little ninny.

I decided right then and there that in order to save my sanity, I needed to keep the majority of my creative energy for my own projects.  I used to feel like I had to explain myself after telling somebody no: “You see, what had happened was, I need to finish my novel because my characters are starting to get impatient and are threatening to do mutiny, so no, I won’t be able to write that 10 page grant for you that you need tomorrow and only told me about 5 minutes ago.”

I started to just say, “You know, I can’t do that for you right now but I’d be happy to take a look at it when I get the chance,” and you know what happened? Nothing! No one demanded any explanations from me and it dawned on me that I had done it to myself. In the words of the great Dr. Phil: you have to teach people how to treat you.

Do people still ask me to do writerly stuff? Sure they do. Do I always oblige? Nope. And you know why? There’s a little adage that all writers should live by: the only way to write a novel is to actually write a novel. And sometimes, in order to make that happen, you have to actually write. And in order to write, you need a ton of creative energy, and you won’t have that energy for your novel if you’re spending it in other places.

What about others? Do people ask you to do things that drain your creative energy? How do you handle it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Book Info

Title: The New Mrs. Collins
Author: Quanie Miller
Genre: Paranormal
Release Date: October 13, 2014

Book Blurb

In the small town of Carolville, Louisiana, no one knows that Adira Collins inherited mystic powers from her great grandmother. All they know is that she’s beautiful, poised, graceful, and ruthless—especially when it comes to love. And no one knows that more than Leena Williams, who was all set to marry the man of her dreams until Adira swooped into town and stole the man’s heart.

Being left at the altar is bad enough, but Leena and her ex share custody of their son, so she has to see the new Mrs. Collins on a regular basis.

And it burns every time she does.

But soon, Leena starts to suspect that there is more to Adira Collins than meets the eye. And it’s not because she owns some kinky lingerie shop or allegedly insulted the pastor’s wife—it’s the strange way she can make a door close without touching it, or take one look at something and make it drop dead at her feet.

Leena starts digging for answers and soon discovers that, unlike her public persona, Adira’s true nature is somewhere on the other side of grace. She also learns, a little too late, that some secrets are better left buried.

She was on her knees in the back yard when she heard the unmistakable sound of Johnny’s truck pulling into the driveway. She turned her head slightly to the right and got up just as calmly as Ronetha Powell had done the night she put a bullet in her husband’s head. She had done it so calmly. Walked in there while he was watching Wheel of Fortune, put the gun to his head, fired, put the gun down, and then went to Wednesday night revival and sang “Somebody Prayed for Me” with such vigor that the visiting pastor singled her out and shouted, “Woman of God! You are blessed!”
It was two days before they found Mr. Powell. Before that, Ronetha had merely stepped over him like he was a bunched up rug that she didn’t feel like straightening out again. She was taking her meatloaf out of the oven when they surrounded her house. When Leena saw Ronetha on the front page of the Carolville Daily, being taken away in handcuffs, she thought to herself that Ronetha looked as serene as a river on Sunday morning. In some odd way, Leena felt the same thing. Serenity. It washed over her as she quietly opened the door and tiptoed through the ice cold house, which, for some reason, was blanketed in shades of yellow. She heard movement upstairs and knew that Johnny was in the bedroom. She walked to the kitchen and set a pot of water on to boil.
She walked slowly up the carpeted stairwell thinking that she should have changed that beige carpet long ago. When she got to the bedroom and saw Johnny — putting a picture of them face down on the nightstand — the shades of yellow that had intruded upon her vision turned stark raving red. Still clutching the letter in her right hand she cocked her arm back and hit that son of a bitch for all he was worth. 

Quanie Miller grew up in New Iberia, Louisiana. She fell in love with reading at an early age and spent most of her time at the Iberia Parish Library discovering authors like R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike (she was often found walking back home from the library with a stack of books that went up to her chin). She holds degrees from Louisiana State University and San Jose State University. She has been the recipient of the James Phelan Literary Award, the Louis King Thore Scholarship, the BEA Student Scriptwriting Award, and the Vicki Hudson Emerging Writing Prize. She is the author of The New Mrs. Collins, a southern paranormal novel, and It Ain't Easy Being Jazzy, a romantic comedy. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and is currently, as always, working on another novel. To find out more about Quanie and her works in progress visit

Book Purchase Links

Amazon (US)
Amazon (UK)

Social Media Links

Twitter: @quaniemiller

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dribbles and Drabbles and Drivels

I have no blog post today.

Wait, you're thinking, what the heck am I reading, then?

Technically, a blog post. Right. Fair enough. I'll get more specific: I have no planned, cohesive post with one set topic and a solid through-line today.

That's OK, though, because I only pretend to have those things most of the time. In fact, I often have what I have today, which is a mostly unrelated collection of thoughts, updates, ideas, and musings. So I'm going to start a new, recurring post today that stops pretending to be cohesive and starts claiming its own identity as a Dribble. Or a Drivel. Or a Drabble. Or perhaps all three. That way, I can post collections like this when I need to, instead of dressing them in costumes to convince people that they are actually coherent stories or essays. Live with confidence now, little dribble-drabble-drivels!

Let us begin:

1. California Envy

So this happened this weekend:

Full disclosure: I didn't take this picture. Another wedding guest did, and I'm borrowing it. 

That's at Diablo Ranch, in Walnut Creek, California, about an hour outside of San Francisco, and it's where I spent most of the weekend, at a family wedding. I got more sun in 24 hours there than I have in the past two weeks in Boston. Which raises the question: why the hell do I live in New England, again? Every time I go to California I forget the answer. I end up feeling envious and wistful, and then pretend I'm actually just disdainful of the weak, soft people who live in constant sunshine and never have to learn to endure anything more difficult than a a few clouds. Unlike we New Englanders, who are a tough, hardy breed. Or something. Of course, the whole drought thing sort of disproves that thesis. Which leaves me wondering why I live here and not near that picture.

Oh, and the wedding was lovely. Really, really lovely, actually.

2. Ode to Being Anal

I love my spreadsheets. They make my brain feel clear and clean. They also make figuring out what I need to work on much, much easier. I spent a good portion of the day yesterday finishing a rough draft of a piece about online dating.

3. The Neverending Story

I'm almost done with the Texbook From Hell. I didn't read the whole thing, no, but I did skim a large portion of it, and read a solid chunk of it. I was hoping to have all of the information I needed for my WIP on Pre-Columbus South America by the time I finished it...but I realize now that was a pipe dream. Of gargantuan proportions. What I have instead is a much clearer idea of where I need to go next in my research. Sigh. Some day, I will finish researching, and that will be a really, really good day.

4. American Navel-Gazing

Did you know that the BBC has a series of television shows on Pre-Columbus South America, with a dashing, sexy, young archaeologist as the host? Yeah, I didn't know archaeologists came in dashing, young, and sexy, either. Check out Dr. Jago Cooper:

Image courtesy of

Oh, and the shows were pretty interesting, too. They're called The Lost Kingdoms of South America, and they've been a welcome, if temporary, respite from the Textbook From Hell. Sadly, I don't think any of them are about the tribes that my characters are from, but the shows have provided great visuals, and excellent insights into the region, history, and various cultures of a place that my schooling, at least, mostly pretended did not exist. Why is that?

5. NaNoWriMoWhoDoesWhatNow?

Based on last year's experience, I'm probably not going to do it this year, but I feel that pull all the same. You know the one: everyone else is doing so maybe I should think about it...

I'll more likely do my version of it, which is less "write a 50,000 word novel in a month" and more "put lots of pressure on yourself to write more and faster and better and get stressed about it while producing about the same amount as always."

What about you all? What's going on in your lives? Are going to NaNo?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Organizational Paradise

For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, it'll come as no surprise that I have a small crush on organization. There's my love of outlines, first of all. I use them for every plot line, sub-plot line, mini-plot, and story device, ever. I also use them - or their simpler, but no less sexy cousin, the list - for groceries, packing for travel, task management, and everything else in my life.

With that in mind, I know no one will be the slightest bit shocked when I confess that I also love spreadsheets. Oh, the organizational options! The endless array of tables, charts, and graphs at my disposal! Is there a more satisfying way to track your life? I think not.

(Before you write me off as a total weirdo, let me just say that I run my own business as a massage therapist, and Microsoft Excel has saved my life. Seriously. I use it to manage my finances and keep my books and organize my tax info for my accountant, all of which you have to do when you are a sole practitioner and have no one to do it for you. So my love of Excel at least has a practical, real-world foundation.)

I started using Excel in my writing life last year, and believe it or not, it wasn't my own idea. I found this great guest post by Delilah S. Dawson on terribleminds (warning: utterly NSFW), which laid out in clear steps a great, easy way to organize and manage your querying process (scroll down to #10 on the list).

I know I'm biased, but if you're planning on querying, I highly recommend you take her advice to heart (all of it, but especially the spreadsheet stuff). Tracking who you've queried, what they said, or how long you've waited for a response, is a complicated and serious business - not to mention essential. Who wants to query their dream agent only to find that they already queried said agent two months ago and that this agent was reading a partial of their novel and now they've gone and humiliated thesmselves? Right. Nobody. So, take my word for it: use a spreadsheet. It'll help.

My recent forays into non-fiction have proved I also need to use spreadsheets there if I want to have any hope of getting published. As of today, when I created the second of these sheets, I now keep two running so that I can track what the hell I'm doing. The first one is a list of places to submit pieces to: journals, websites, blogs, etc. My column headers are: Publication, Tone/Style Sought, Topics Sought, Submission Guidelines, Deadline, Pieces Read?, Name of Piece To Submit, Date Submitted, and Response. Each row is a different publication.

Simple, really. If it seems too complicated, consider this: I've been researching places to submit to for a few days at most, and I already have over forty options - and that's only the tip of the iceberg. I can't remember which ones want flash non-fiction and which ones want subversive essays under 3000 words and which ones only accept poetry essays over 8000 words, so now I have a spreadsheet.

Today, as I was trying to figure out what I actually need to be writing, I also realized that I need a spreadsheet to track my pieces. Again, I know I'm anal and maybe a little bit crazy, but I'm used to dealing with one book. One. Now I have fourteen pieces at various stages, from brainstorming only all the way up to polished and ready to go. You try keeping track of all of those without a spreadsheet. I've been doing it for weeks, and it ain't pretty.

So I made a new one. The fact that I may have geeked out while making it is unimportant. What's important is that I know have a simple, easy way to track my pieces, too. This one is even easier. The column headers are: Title, Theme (so that I remember what the piece is actually about), Stage, Length, and Possible home.

And now I'm so organized. I love it. I'm in heaven.

What about you? How do you keep track of everything you're working on?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Not-Run Run

Ok folks, it's the dawning of the new blogging era I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, in which I write about stuff that's kind of about writing anything I want to. I enjoyed writing this; I hope you enjoy reading it, too. 

So last Wednesday, I didn't go for a run.

Perhaps this doesn't sound like news. I understand. For most people of varying fitness levels, it's probably not too unusual. We all have off days: days when the sky is too gray or it's raining too hard or the thermostat hovers around stupidly cold, or days after the nights we had a little too much to drink and got not-quite-enough sleep, and dragging ourselves from the warm, deep nest of our beds is just too damn hard. These are the days we don't make it to the gym, don't go for that run, skip that spin class.

Well, I say 'we', but it's not quite accurate. I have these days, but I go anyway.

This is not always a good thing. I am not an exercise saint. What I am is anxious. I lost a large amount of weight six years ago and while I've kept it off, I'm haunted by the fear that if I stop exercising for even one day it will all come rushing back, every last pound. The recognition that this fear is absurd, that skipping one day of exercise will not cause me to gain half a person's worth of weight, does nothing to lessen the brutal strength of it. So when I wake up on a Wednesday, which is my day off from my day job and therefore a day to both write and run, and I feel sluggish or lazy or just plain tired, I ignore my body's signals, shove my protesting feet into my sneakers, and head out. Every single time.

Yes. I have a tendency towards extremes. Moderation is something I'm working on.

But last week, I didn't go. I don't know why; some quiet, still instinct held me back. The fact that I could even hear this instinct, whispering like wind-blown leaves in my ear, is an achievement. Two years ago, the fear would have drowned it out. But not anymore. I listened, and I stayed in my pajamas and drank my coffee and worked, and when the sun became so bright around noon that I felt its presence like a physical hook around my spine, I went outside. But not for a run. For a walk.

It was one of those perfect, priceless September days, the sort the universe drops in our laps every now and then as if in apology for the coming New England winter. A warm, crisp day, a day washed clean, burning bright blue, with the kind of light, gentle breeze that lifts even the lowest spirits.

It was so beautiful and so precious that even though I intended to walk, I found myself running. Sprinting down narrow paths in the woods inside the park, kicking up fallen leaves; racing up small hills with the browning grass crackling beneath my feet. I ran like I haven't run since childhood, for the pure, simple joy of it. I ran because I could, because my body was strong and my legs could bend and spring and my lungs could take in great big gulps of that perfect, crisp air.

When I reached the top of a higher hill, I found I was laughing out loud. The sun kissed my cheeks and the wind caressed my hair and I laughed harder, not from the joy of running this time, but for recognition of what I'd been missing, all of those days and weeks and months and years when I forced myself to run out of fear. This. This is what I'd forgotten.

I stayed outside for a long, long time, returning home only when the sentences forming in my mind became too urgent, too pressing to ignore, and I had to go inside and put them onto paper. They came out of joy, out of space; they came because I didn't force them, and that is such a rare and precious thing that I knew I'd received two gifts that day.

All because I didn't run.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Insecure Writers: Inspiration

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! The IWSG is an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

Hey, IWSG-ers and other visitors! There's a very cool, very special IWSG theme today. The creators of the group are putting together a free ebook anthology called "The IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond," and the posts that many of us put up today will be included in that anthology. You can learn about it here and submit your own post for it here. not writing anything for the anthology. I know, I know, big lead up for a big let down! But the idea is so great that I had to share it. So go on, go check it out and then come back and read my non-IWSG-anthology-IWSG post.

All done? Pretty cool, right??

Anyway, not to worry, I might not be creating a piece for the anthology, but I have plenty of insecurity to share!!

But I'm going to restrain myself today, and share some inspiration instead. I've been devouring Cheryl Strayed's work these past few weeks. If you haven't read Wild, her best-selling memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, go read it!! AND while you're at it, read Tiny Beautiful Things, which is a collection of her Dear Sugar advice columns, and which is so much more beautiful and inspiring and heart-breaking and vulnerable and funny and real than any advice column, ever. I had no idea I'd like it so much, but I've read it once through, tears spilling down my face the whole time, and as soon as I finished it I went back to the beginning and started reading it again. So.

That's not the inspiration I wanted to share, though. I mentioned Strayed because in Wild, she talks about the book The Dream of a Common Language. It's a collection of poetry by Adrienne Rich, who I discovered in college and who I knew, in the way of all egotistical, self-centered eighteen-year-olds, was writing those poems just for me. I haven't read her poetry in years, but the reminder in Wild made me pick up Rich's work and dive back into it, and I'm discovering all over again why I fell in love with it in the first place.

I wanted to share a few lines here, in part for their bare beauty, but mostly because I hope they'll inspire you the way that they inspired me:

From the poem Miracle Ice Cream in the book Dark Fields of the Republic:

"Miracle's truck comes down the little avenue,
Scott Joplin ragtime strewn behind it like pearls,
and, yes, you can feel happy
with one piece of your heart."

From the poem One: Comrade, also from Dark Fields of the Republic:

"Little as I knew you I know you:    little as you knew me you
      know me
- that's the light we stand under when we meet."

And finally, the poem #9 in the section Calle Vision in Dark Fields of the Republic:

"In the black net
of her orange wing
the angry nightblown butterfly
hangs on a piece of lilac in the sun
carried overland like her
from a long way off
She has traveled hard and far
and her interrogation goes:
-Hands dripping with wet earth
head full of shocking dreams

O what have you buried all these years?
What have you dug up?

This place is alive with the dead and with the living
I have never been alone here
I wear my triple eye as I walk along the road
past, present, future all are at my side
Storm-beaten, tough-winged passenger
there is nothing I have buried that can die"

If you liked these, go read the whole book, and then all of her books. Really.

What's inspiring you these days?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What Blog Am I, Really?

I've recently been having a bit of a blogging identity crisis. You see, the purpose of this blog is to write about the process of writing a novel. It says so, in big black letters across the top of the page, right under the header photo. I know, because I put it there myself, to remind myself about what I'm supposed to be doing when I get off-track and start talking about the perceived evil of e-readers or blog-comment etiquette. I need these reminders, or I tend to forget what I'm doing. A lot.

Here's the thing, though. I've been writing this blog for over a year now, and in the process I've learned something:

Writing a novel isn't always terribly interesting.

Gasp. Shocking, right? Who would've thought that a process involving a single person alone at a computer plumbing his or her imagination for endless details for hours and days and weeks and months and years on end might not be interesting???

Yes, well. It might seem obvious now, but when I started on this bloggy-journey, naive and hopeful and wide-eyed, I thought it would prove to be fascinating. And I mean those italics, as only a naive, hopeful, wide-eyed novice can. How fascinating!!!

And yet, it's not really fascinating at all for long stretches of time. Funny that. Weeks go by where the only honest blog post about my process is "I'm still researching," or "I'm still developing characters" or, worse, "I'm bored by my own writing in this scene, and I don't know why I'm bored, but I'm certainly not going to subject you to it until I figure it out."

For a while I tried to ignore this problem. I wrote about "still researching" and tried to make it interesting, and then I wrote about lots of other things that had nothing to do with writing a novel, all the while with this niggling, annoying pin jabbing me in the back of the head, telling me what was really happening was an identity crisis and I had to do something about it.

Obviously, the pin finally won, because here I am, doing something about it. And even better, I've devised an entirely writerly way of dealing with this problem.

I'm going to play with words.

You see, I decided that I've been defining "process" way too narrowly, as in "the actual writer things I do while working on a novel." I'm going to widen that definition to "whatever is happening in my life while I try to write a novel, and which I want to talk about." The premise being that all of the happenings are happening to me, the writer, and so they are in some way affecting the way I am writing said novel. Plus, I'm the writer, so I get to change the definition when I want to.

Perhaps it sounds like I'm making excuses. That's because I am. But I don't care.

You might now be thinking, "OK, so what does this mean for me, reading this blog?" You also might not. I don't know; I'm not in your head.

Let's pretend you are, OK? Great. Fair question. Truthfully, not too much. I'll still write about my neurotic brain and weird habits. I'll still complain about having too much to research or being overwhelmed by research or intimidated by writing characters from other ethnic backgrounds or whatever else I'm perseverating about on any given day. BUT I'll also write about something that happened to me, or a non-fiction piece I'm working on, or a story from my life that I just happen to want to talk about.

AND I'll do it without getting all guilty about it. How about that.

What about you? Do you limit yourself to a defined topic when it comes to blogging? Or, as a reader, do you get annoyed when a blogger posts about something other than what the blog is supposed to be about?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Rush of Rushing

Hey, did you know I'm writing a novel??

You didn't? Well, I can't blame you. You wouldn't know it from my recent blog posts. What can I say? I've been caught up in the alluring world of creative non-fiction, where almost no research is required. What a beautiful place...

I know, it's been a while since I posted anything about my WIP. In my defense, I'm still working my way through this monster, which doesn't so much involve reading as it does navigating the research rabbit holes. You know, those places you stumble into when you're researching something, and quickly get lost in. The places that take you from the world of South American archaeology into the strange, sealed world of cliff tombs. For example.

I'm not disparaging these rabbit holes - they can provide surprising plot twists, fascinating tidbits of information, and lovely hours of procrastination - but I can't help but feel like a horse delicately picking its way through a field riddled with little rodent burrows. One wrong step...

I won't go into excruciating detail, because, well, it's excruciatingly dull, but I will explain the basics: I am attempting to place my South American lifetime in a specific set of locations and a specific time period, so that I can then attempt to figure out how the people of those locations and periods lived and interacted, so that I can then figure out who the hell my characters are and what the hell they're doing.

This process is of course not linear. I start with a vague set of parameters: one character probably lived in the dry Andean highlands, and the other in the semi-temperate edges of the Amazon basin. So I look in my giant archaeology book for articles about peoples who lived in the altiplano, or the high Andean plateau. That leads me to a variety of dense, academic treatises on the Early, Middle, and Late Periods of Pre-Incan civilization, so then I have to go look up when each of these periods occurred and what occurred in them.

The problem, though, is that it's very hard to find general information on early South American peoples, which is fair, because there were many of them living all over the continent in vastly different climates.

So then I start researching actual tribes who lived in the altiplano, which leads me to that BBC show on the Chachapoya people and their cliff tombs, which, although fascinating, is not what I need to know, because the Chachapoya lived in the Peruvian cloud forest, which is not at all arid and therefore not at all what I'm looking for.

I dig myself out of that particular rabbit hole, and dive into another.

I know it sounds a lot like I'm complaining. I'm not. The research is difficult, sometimes boring, but generally fascinating and rich with gorgeous ideas and images, and I need to know all of this. I just...well, to be honest, I just want to be getting this done faster. I'm constantly fighting that urge to rush, to finish my book as fast as possible and get it out there in the world. It's a totally self-manufactured rush - I have no deadline - and it's making me feel like I'm never getting enough done. Which means, really, that it's not helping me at all.

I know I'm not alone in this - Anne Allen had a great post about it a couple of weeks ago - but that doesn't make it easier to handle. It's so hard to fight that inner voice that screams for more, faster, now - and to not feel defeated when you know that less, slower, later, is better.

Send along some good vibes, and let me know how you fight the voices that tell you to rush.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sorting Through the Data on Comments

Last week, I ran a highly technical and scientific poll about comments, so of course that means that this week, I'll reveal the results that I have carefully sorted and analyzed. Rest assured, the results are just as technical and scientific as the poll itself.

Which is to say that I went through and counted the responses by hand, and tallied up some numbers in my head and used those to come up with some rough estimates (calculator? Who needs a calculator?) to share with you today.

Granted, I had about 35 responses, and there are about 5,467,872,536 blogs out there (that's a real number based on my imagination), so that represents 0.00000001% of the blogosphere...but it's my 0.00000001%, the people who come and comment and whose blogs I read, so that counts for something, I think. I'm not sure what, exactly, but it's something

I know, I know, I'm not getting any points for technical prowess. But I did read everyone's responses carefully - and I have to say, I really appreciate the thoughtfulness displayed in most of the answers. Thank you again to everyone who weighed in.

Now, on to the results. I asked:

Question 1: Do you think it's important for a blogger to respond to all comments on a post?

Result: Almost everyone replied 'No' on this one. The clear majority - like 98% ish - thinks that unless the comment asked a question, raised an issue, or was very thoughtful, there's no need to leave a response if the blogger doesn't have time. If the comment doesn't meet those criteria, replies are nice, but it's better to use your time to visit that commenter's blog instead.

A couple of you did note that you like to see lively blogs, and bloggers who are invested in and care about their readers, and so you do try to respond to everyone who comments. To you I say thank you, and I admire you, and where on earth do you find the time?

Question 2. Do you check back to see if the blogger has responded to your comment?

Result: This one was almost unanimous, except for those of us who have an insatiable curiosity (and I love you for it! :) ). None of us go back to see responses to our comments - unless our comments met those criteria I noted in the first question. If we asked a question, raised an issue, or left a long and thoughtful response, we do check back. Otherwise, we wish we could, but we just don't have time.

Conclusion: So, what does this all mean? Well, I can't come to a definitive conclusion, because the blogosphere is too big and I am one little blog inside it, but I can share what I've decided. Based on the majority consensus that responses aren't essential, I'm no longer going to respond to every comment on my blog - but I am going to read and enjoy and appreciate every single one, so don't doubt that your words have been seen. I love comments, and I gobble them up, and I get hungry if there aren't any. If you happen to ask a question or raise an issue, I definitely will respond. I will probably also respond to other comments that tickle my fancy or make me smile, and still others for no discernible reason, because I'm the blogger and I say so.

I also will not expect any of you to respond to a comment I leave on your blog, unless, again, I ask a question or raise an issue or say something incredibly insightful and interesting and thoughtful, which of course I do All. The. Time. I am like an Insightful Comment machine.

Ahem. Anyway, don't worry about responding to me if I happen to have an off-day and say something that doesn't require any kind of response. It happens. Rarely, of course, but I'm human. Or I'm a machine. Wait, I seem to be contradicting myself.


The thing that won't change? I'll always return your visit.

Hey - look at that! I wrote two whole blog posts just about commenting. Pretty cool, huh? See how I managed to not talk at all about how my writing is going? A sure-fire sign that I am likely feeling overwhelmed and frustrated at my own perceived lack of productivity? I know, I'm a sneaky one. Suffice it to say that I have too many pots boiling and I'm worried I'm going to forget about one or more, and then the water will evaporate and before I know it I'll have a gross, ruined pot. And then what will I cook with?

Not to worry. I'm sure I'll vent talk about that next week.

So, what about you? What do you make of the poll results? Are you horrified and offended by my conclusion? (I hope not.) Will you change your own responding habits, or keep them as they are? If you didn't weigh in last week, feel free to do so now. That's the joy of nontechnical, unscientific polls. I knew I did it that way for a reason...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Commenters, Unite

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! The IWSG is an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

Hello IWSG-ers and honored guests! It's that time of the year, when kids and teachers are heading back to school, summer is turning to autumn (hypothetically, anyway; here in New England someone forgot to tell summer that it's over), and, in my house at least, vacation-time is really over. I always feel like this is the real New Year, when everything starts again; I guess I was in school too long for that feeling to ever really wear off.

So, in honor of this new beginning, I'm going to finally run a little poll I've been meaning to run for months, which has to do with comments. So many of us spend a lot of time reading other blogs and commenting, sometimes to ask a question or contribute to a discussion, and sometimes just as a way of saying, "Hi! I was here and I enjoyed this!" I thought we all might benefit from knowing the general consensus on responding to comments. Not returning visits, but responding to comments left on our posts.

The only issue is that I cannot for my life find a way to embed a simple poll in this post without a) signing up for a service I don't want, b) making all of you scroll around the page and search for it until you get frustrated and give up, c) sending you to a results page full of ads, or d) breaking my blog.

Yes, I'm sure there's an easy way, but I can't find it. I am feeling insecure about this. Moving on.

SO, I'm going to ask all of you lovely people to please go ahead and answer two easy questions in your comments, and we'll call that a poll and move on with life and pretend that I am a very tech-savvy blogger.

Before I ask the questions, let me explain: as I've mentioned, I'm struggling a bit with time. I read a lot of blogs and leave comments, and I love writing, and then there's my day job and my family and my friends...and I'm looking for something to give a little. I'm wondering if responding to comments is something I might be able to give up. I often feel like I'm just responding to let people know that I read their comments, instead of responding to an actual debate or question. And that's starting to feel like something I might not need to do. However, I will always, always respond if you ask a question or raise an important idea or even just leave a long and thoughtful response.

Here are the questions I'd love for you to answer (and please, be honest!! I will not be offended!):

1. Do you think it's important for a blogger to respond to all comments on a post?
2. Do you check back to see if the blogger has responded to your comment?

My own answers:

1. No, I don't think it's important for a blogger to always respond to comments. I know we're all busy and we all have a lot going on, and I don't take it personally if a blogger doesn't respond to my comment - unless I asked a question or raised a new idea, or left a very long, unusually thoughtful comment.
2. I'm sorry!! I used to subscribe to comments on every blog I visited, but now I visit too many and my inbox got so clogged that I had to delete everything. Now, I only check back if I did one of the things I mentioned in my first answer: asked a question, raised an issue, or left a long and thoughtful response.

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think! I'll report back on the overall results next week. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bless Me, Readers, For I Have Sold Out

I have a confession to make.

I've been avoiding this for months, but my guilt is reaching the saturation point, and I have to just come clean and and hope you'll all still respect me in the morning (and yes, I know I'm mixing metaphors, but I'm in extremis, and I think there is a link, albeit a murky shame-y needing absolution-y sort of link, between one-night stands and confession):

I got an e-reader.

Well, sort of.

Ok, let me take a step back, here, and explain.

I didn't actually intend to get an e-reader. I actually intended to get - and did get - a tablet, because I've been whining about how everyone else has one and I want one and it's not fair how come all those kids get to have iPads and all I have is this crummy laptop, and so on, for years, until finally my partner pointed out that Verizon was having some kind of super special where you could get a free tablet if you upgraded your phone.

One upgraded phone later, and I was the owner of a shiny new Verizon Ellipsis 7-inch tablet. "Small but mighty," I thought, and happily started using it for absolutely everything. I unfortunately soon realized why the Ellipsis was free; I'll spare you the boring rant and just say that you certainly get what you pay for, and I paid nothing.

To make a long story short, I found that the Ellipsis works best when it's on airplane mode and not connected to any network whatsoever, and the only things to do when it's in airplane mode are play games and read books.

So, I downloaded the OverDrive Media Console and hooked it up to my library account, and the rest, as they say, is history.

By now, I know many of you are raising your eyebrows, wondering what on earth the problem with all of this is. I know; lots of people use e-readers, all the time. I now have to confess that up until this past January, when I bought my partner a Kobo for her birthday, that I thought of all of these people as techno-sellouts. Oh, I never said anything like that out loud; I kept my snobby old-fashioned views to myself; but in my heart of hearts I was proud to still be reading only physical books. Real books, I thought, for a real reader, one who supports independent stores and independent authors and, just, everything independent. A reader who values the smell and the feel of the pages, the pleasure of flipping back and forth through the book at leisure, the satisfaction of holding an old friend in your hands year after year for your annual reread. I would never give in, I told myself, and I even believed it.

In other words, I was being pretentious and rather illogical, and I realized my own fallacy the minute I started downloading books.

It's just so easy. It's instant gratification. All I have to do is think, "Gee, I'd like to read Americanah today," and within minutes I have it right in front of me, without ever having to get dressed. It's every writer's dream: get everything you want without needing to speak to another soul or even leave the house. As a result, I've read a ton of books, far more than usual, and I'm loving every second of it.

I do miss having an actual book to hold, though. I miss seeing how far along I am, and flipping easily back to reread a passage (something that's just annoying on my e-reader); I miss seeing the spines of new and old books lined up on my shelves; I miss being able to pass a new favorite off to a friend without having to figure out how to hack a computer.

However, I went on vacation last week (it was marvelous) and I didn't have to go through my usual agony of deciding which books to pack: I just slipped my trusty Ellipsis into my purse, confident that I could decide later, at any time, and that the whole electronic world was at my fingertips.

I surrender, everybody. I see why you've all been converted. You were right, all along.

I'll still miss my books, though.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Updates and Snippets

Before I start, just a quick scheduling thing: I'm going to be on vacation next week, soaking up the last dying rays of summer (depressing, isn't it?), far away from my computer. I'll be back to posting and visiting the last week of August.

As I mentioned last week, I'm taking a non-fiction class on writing personal essays, so I'm a little bit swamped with making mistakes muddling through working on my assignments right now. I'm also still trying to get things done on my WIP (the fiction sort), so I decided that for today's post, I'd tag myself in a cool blog hop and talking about what I'm working on!

Hmm, what's that? I can't tag myself in a blog hop? Oh well. Too late now!

1. Fiction: Despite some people's doubts, I really am still working on my novel. I have proof, too. Very heavy, large, and intimidating proof:

It's the big textbook-looking one, set next to a normal book for comparison purposes (which yes, is on my To Be Read list). And just so you can get the full effect, here's a cropped side view (and no, I don't have abnormally giant hands. It really is that big):

I felt the need to show you these pictures, you see, to validate the rather extreme feelings of intimidation and dread that strike me whenever I open this damn tome and start reading. It's a tad bit overwhelming. Unfortunately, it's also necessary, because I have no freaking idea what I'm doing with my South American lifetime yet, and I need as much information as I can get.

I, erm, haven't gotten very far yet. Ahem. I might still be skimming through the Introduction. In my defense, it's 26 pages long.

2. Non-Fiction: This is actually going surprisingly well. I'm afraid to post about it, because I am ludicrously (and yet, for a writer, typically) superstitious about talking about potential success. It's all very Jewish Shtetl Evil Eye-ish of me, but I worry that if I say things are good, they will suddenly take a turn for the very much worse.

I'm going to get over that, though, and say that my hope that writing personal essays would come naturally to me is so far turning out to be true. This is really early to be saying it (cough Evil Eye cough), since I have yet to move past the rough draft stage of anything, but thus far the stories are pouring out of me quickly and easily. I've twice written an entire rough draft of a 2,000-ish word essay (yup, still having brevity problems) in a couple of hours. A couple of hours. Which is NOT NORMAL for me.

This is in stark contrast to my pace when I'm writing fiction. I'm sure that's at least partially because I plot and research and character-develop everything to death in my novels, which I don't have to do for non-fiction. That is a pleasure.

(And no, pantsers, that doesn't mean I'm suddenly joining your team.)

I can't post any snippets from those rough drafts yet, because of many, many reasons, but I can post a little snippety thing I wrote for my homework this week. The assignment was to write an "Apology Epistle", based on this gorgeous little piece, beginning with the words "I'm sorry." It was supposed to be about 250 words, and guess what???  Mine clocks in at 257. Score one point for brevity!!!

Here it is. Feedback is welcome, but be very gentle, please - this is definitely a rough draft.

I’m sorry I didn't go out with you that night. I can imagine so clearly how it would have been: the snow sparkling in starlight, the brilliant white hiding the gray, the yellow, the black: the true character of the city, which we all saw bared for the first time that night, still cloaked in darkness and flecks of light. Walking home through the naked streets, laughing past the shadows in the corners, their menace unnoticed and ignored. The air like knives on our wine-protected skin, their blades unfelt until. Until. Then the figures like more shadows coalescing into a gang of teenagers, staining the white sparkling night, demanding with clumsy gestures our wallets, our money, our phones. Refusal, laughter; their faces so young and so foolish; our minds still shielded in warmth and soaked in booze; then the dark sinking chasm of the gun. 
I imagine that I would have stopped you. I would have taken your arm, looked in your eyes, and the question hovering on your lips would have fallen, unvoiced, to the filthy snow. Then we would have lost wallets, money, phones; gained bruises and cuts and yes, the gash under Ethan’s eye; but we would have walked away uncaring because we would also have your life.
Instead, I stayed home, and worked on the play I was writing for you and with you and because of you, and slept with innocence through the terrible night and awoke to a gray dawn, still unaware, still thinking I had nothing to be sorry for. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Insecure Writers: Extra Specially Insecure Non-Fiction

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! For those who don't remember, it's an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

Hello ISWG-ers! I'm sorry I missed you last time. Don't worry, I've saved up my anxieties, and to make up for it, I am going to be extra insecure for you this month. Isn't that exciting??

Truthfully, I hesitated about posting this today. Mostly, it felt so new that I wasn't sure I was ready to share it with all the Internets. Then I remembered that I really only know a few people online, and felt better about it!

So, here's the deal: I'm taking a Grub Street class on writing...non-fiction.

Yes, that's right: I'm trying to learn how write about real events and people. I'm sure all you non-fiction writers out there are shrugging, wondering what the big deal is, but trust me: when you're used to making up an entire world of people, it feels very naked and scary to suddenly just talk about yourself. I can't hide behind my characters or my plot, or, to be a little fairer in how I present this, express myself via a situation that I myself have created. Instead, I have only me: my thoughts, my experiences. Where do I start? What story do I even tell?

Then, too, there's the sheer terror of being a beginner. I hate being a beginner. I'm so much happier being the comfortable expert. As a beginner, I fumble and make mistakes and do stupid things, and then I have to learn from all of that and forgive myself for it and really, it's exhausting.

And finally...I'm taking this class, not for fun, but because I'm hoping it will help me on my road to publication. I need some writing credits, friends, and you only get those by writing things and submitting them. Funny how that works, huh? I thought for a while that I would write and submit short stories...but they don't come naturally to me. First of all, as you know, I have a brevity problem. Second, when I create fiction, my mind naturally bends towards intricate ideas that require a longer format. This isn't to say that I can't write short stories, just that I don't have a natural bend towards them.

If I had tons of free time, I'd learn how to write them, anyway. But given the constraints most of us have, of day job plus family plus friends plus social media plus writing a novel, I have very little time. So I figured I should try for something that seems to come more naturally to me: and hence the reason I'm taking a class on writing personal essays.

So there you go, a nice insecure package wrapped up in an anxious bow. Yep, that's the kind of gift I give on this blog.

What about you? Are you trying something new, and feeling insecure about it?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer Reading

Since everyone around me (under the age of 21, anyway) is wading through vast lists of required books, tackling their summer reading assignments as best they can, I thought I'd do a little post on my own summer reading. The subject of today's post may or may not have anything to do with the fact that the problems I discussed in last week's post are still unfortunately relevant, or with the fact that I seem to be suffering from an alarming lack of motivation this season, and am having difficulty making myself do much of anything besides reading.

(Is it just me, or is everyone suffering from the same issue right now? It's like the summer version of SAD - working, writing, and any other activity not involving playing outside or reading make me depressed. No? Just me? Oh. Moving on, then.)

It's a possibility that these things are affecting my posts right now. Perhaps.

At any rate, I've gotten a ton of reading done this summer. Here's what I've been tackling myself:

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

Gasp, what's this??? I'm reading MG?? I KNOW, it's amazing! I think all of my blogging buddies are finally wearing off on me. (Ok, and my partner is a teacher, and made me read this.) I admit I was a little hesitant at first, but I loved it. It's the story of a gorilla named Ivan, and a baby elephant named Ruby, and it is smart, funny, sad, and extremely well done. My one complaint is that it starts off very slow - I wish I could edit the first fifty or so pages - but once it gets into the main action, it's so wonderful and heart-strings-pulling that the slow start doesn't matter. I may, in fact, have cried at the end. Maybe.

Kissing the Witch, by Emma Donoghue

This was described to me by a client as 'gay fairy tales', which is only half-true, and that's if I'm being generous. These are fairy tales, but they're about as gay as the originals (i.e. a few hints, but not much else). What they are, in fact, are Donoghue's retelling of the classics. They are funny, desperate, and terribly sad; they are imaginatively wrought and gorgeously written; and each one is brief and lovely and engaging, so that you can read one tale in a few minutes, or delve into the whole world for a few thoughtful, wonderful hours. Oh, and as for the gay part - there are tiny mentions of same-sex relationships in two of the thirteen stories, so if that sort of thing offends you...oh, read it anyway. It's very brief, not remotely graphic, and quite lovely.

Truth and Beauty, by Ann Patchett

I am becoming a huge Ann Patchett fan in my old age; I also read her collection of essays recently, but as I already talked about that, I'll leave them out for now (but go read them. Seriously.) This one is another piece of non-fiction: it's about the late writer Lucy Grealy, and Ann's friendship with her. Like everything Patchett writes, this is engaging and very funny, with gems of hidden beauty and truth (yes, I may have done that on purpose), and also heartbreaking. I lost my dearest friend, also a writer, years ago, and this book was in some ways like reading our story, too.

Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Ok, confession time. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but in the spirit of honesty that I try to maintain on this blog, here goes: I know this is an award-winning book, and is considered a masterpiece by many; but I cannot get through it. Yes, the writing is wonderful, and the characters are so clearly drawn that they spring off of the page; yes, it's literary and character-driven, and therefore a bit slow; but I still can't get through it. I like slow, literary books sometimes, but this one is so slow that I feel like I'm suffering from the same heatstroke as the characters. Plus, when things do start to happen, they're so awful and so frustrating and unfair that I want to bury my head in the sand and pretend they're not happening. Which is what I've actually been doing, since I stopped reading it and have yet to pick it back up. Not without a good bit of shame, I should add.

I've also been revisiting The Dragonriders of Pern series for my annual dose of nostalgic childhood reading, and it's providing the wonderful, engaging escape that I hoped it would. I have realized, though, that my summer reading list is made up of Western white people. How did that happen??? I need to diversify, and I'll gladly take suggestions!

What are you reading this summer? Any recommendations? Should I keep reading Atonement, or give up completely?