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?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Ninth Circle of Writer's Hell

Do you ever have one of those days when you sit at your computer, staring at the blank 'Compose' page on Blogger (or WordPress or whatever your bloggy poison of choice may be), and think, "I am boring. I am a boring, boring person. My life is boring; my thoughts are boring; my clothes are boring; I am bored just writing this?" Or, if you prefer slightly more straightforward language, do you sit and think, "WHAT ON GOD'S GREEN EARTH AM I GOING TO WRITE ABOUT TODAY?"

I know you'll be shocked to learn that I feel that way right now.

I think there's nothing like the panic that overcomes a writer when we cannot think of anything to write. It is all-encompassing, it is pervasive, it creeps into every vein and every nerve until our palms are sweating and our hair is falling out and our bodies are vibrating with anxiety, and we would give our left arms (or legs or souls or lives or firstborn sons) for just ONE good, or even mildly mediocre, idea. It is, I believe, the ninth circle of a writer's hell, and it is the place we will all go to when we die without EVER WRITING ANYTHING.

Does this sound melodramatic?

GOOD. Because it is. It feels that melodramatic. Which is why I'm using so many italics and CAPITALS.

How can I be a writer, we think, if I can't come up with anything to WRITE? My very identity is being called question! My very soul! The very fiber of my being!! WHO AM I IF I DO NOT WRITE???

(As a side-note, this should be fairly obvious, but let me add that this extreme, panic-stricken melodrama does not help the situation. In no way is it useful, or even inspiring. It's rather more like asking for directions and then putting on a giant pair of noise cancelling headphones while someone is trying to give them to you, and getting anxious and angry because you can't hear what the person is saying, and telling them sternly to just SPEAK UP, for God's sake.)

And then of course, we realize that the answer to that question - WHO AM I IF I DO NOT WRITE, that is, in case you lost track of the thread of this post like I did - is that we are no one. Which then sends us into an unending spiral of depression and more anxiety.

Surprisingly, this also does not lead to any actual writing.

You know what does? Writing. Yes yes, I know, it's a catch 22. We have nothing to write about so we don't write, but the only way to start writing is to write, but we don't have anything to write about so we don't write, but the only way to start writing is to write...

Fun as that endless circling logic is, I hope you'll pardon me if I step away from it for a bit, and point out that I just spent an entire blog post writing about not writing. So, there it is: I can write, after all

Yup, there is a point to this post. Who would've thought?

I know it might sound ridiculous, or useless, but this truly is the only way I've ever found to break that panic, unblock the blockage, and escape from the ninth circle of writer's hell: write. It doesn't matter what I write about. More often than not, I write about how I can't write. It feels impossible, so I write about that, too. I give myself free license, and I do NOT edit, ever. I bitch and moan and whine to myself, I indulge every ounce of my own melodrama, and then, somewhere around page ten of my insane ramblings, it stops. The complaining turns into brainstorming; the panic turns into curiosity. 'What if I write about the ninth circle of hell', I think? What if I write about that time I did a swan dive on the streets of Manhattan, or the time I sat in the passenger's seat in a car in Ireland and became convinced I was going to die because I didn't have a brake on my side - or a steering wheel?

So I write about those things. Or I write some more about not writing. Either way, I am writing, and that is the entire point.

Plus, it's really sort of fun when you get to post about not having anything to post about...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Soulless Cover Reveal!

I'm still avoiding research freewriting up a storm these days, so in the meantime, I am delighted and excited to turn my little blog over to a VIE (Very Important Event) today: it's cover reveal week for Crystal Collier's book Soulless, which is the second book in her trilogy! YAY CRYSTAL! Without further ado...

Have you met the Soulless and Passionate? In the world of 1770 where supernatural beings mix with humanity, Alexia is playing a deadly game.

SOULLESS, Book 2 in the Maiden of Time trilogy

Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she's forced to unleash her true power.

And risk losing everything.

What people are saying about this series: 

"With a completely unique plot that keeps you guessing and interested, it brings you close to the characters, sympathizing with them and understanding their trials and tribulations." --SC, Amazon reviewer

"It's clean, classy and supernaturally packed with suspense, longing, intrigue and magic." --Jill Jennings, TX

"SWOON." --Sherlyn, Mermaid with a Book Reviewer

Crystal Collier is a young adult author who pens dark fantasy, historical, and romance hybrids. She can be found practicing her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, three littles, and "friend" (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her blog and Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

COMING October 13, 2014

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Freewriting as Fuel

I'm back! Back home, that is, and very much plugged back in. Thank you all for the well-wishes - I did have a great anniversary, a lovely vacation, and a wonderful birthday. To my great happiness, my birthday was exactly what I wanted: a delicious breakfast, then a fantastic, grueling four-hour hike, a hot shower, and an amazing and enormous dinner (with wine, of course). Call me crazy, but I love the feeling of happy, exhausted accomplishment when I finish a long hike, with a delicious feast as a well-deserved reward. And besides, with a view like this at the top of the mountain, I'd hike it any day, feast or not:

That picture doesn't even do it justice, because I got way too much of the top of the mountain in the foreground, and not enough of the view beyond it! It's a 360 degree view, which I also couldn't capture, of the Green Mountains and the Mad River Valley, and on a clear day, you can even see across Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks. It's gorgeous.

At any rate, I'm back at my job and at my desk, and still using the impetus from the movie to propel me into some work. The more I freewrite, the more I'm inspired to keep going, so I'm going to use that fuel to help me churn out as much as I can while I have time today. It does feel great to be writing, even if I have to give myself little do-nothing breaks for additional motivation - that vacation mentality is a little hard to shake.

So, while I kick my butt back into gear, I thought I'd post a little bit of what I wrote a couple of weeks ago. I did say I might do that, after all, and I like to keep my promises...even if I'm the only one who remembers them. And yes, it's maybe possible that I didn't have time to come up with a longer blog post. Maybe.

This little snippet is from the Tibetan lifetime (since that's what the movie was about, and what I was in the middle of researching when I stopped to watch it), and as always, it's barely been reread, much less edited. When I wrote it, I was thinking of this being the very beginning of the Tibetan section... but we'll see.
It was winter, thick and heavy, like the snows that blanketed the peaks and hid all of the passes. It was no time for a journey.
Tashi slid his fingers – brown and leathered and rough, like the rest of him – over the parchment. He couldn’t read the blocks of black ink, spidery and strange, but he knew what they said; he had gotten a lama to tell him the story the parchment held, and he’d memorized it, fast, a flash of lightning seared into his mind. There was nothing to be gained from it anymore; he should throw it into the fire and let it bake his tsampa for him, let it cook the dough along with the tea for his breakfast, but for some reason he held onto it anyway, and kept touching it, as if it had more to tell him.
Dawn crept through the cracks in the tent, blue and sheer with frost. It was cold, bone cold, with storms chasing the clear sky into darkness: no time for a journey, and yet here he was, embarking on one anyway.
He wouldn’t have done it for anyone else. Tashi stirred the hearth, blowing on it gently, until it caught and the embers blossomed into flame. No other soul could have called him back; not Diki, long-dead anyway, taken from his side by a wasting sickness ten years after they married; not his brothers (he refused to dignify them with their names, even in the silence of his mind) or their pale, weak daughters, or – he added quickly, before memory could settle too deeply into him – anyone else. Only Dorje, his son, could force him to go home.