Sunday, October 28, 2012

Reading material

The projected storm track seems to put this Frankenstorm passing right over my house, so if I'm not around in the coming days, it's most likely due to a loss of electricity. Here are some links to reading material:

I posted over at YA Outside the Lines about fear. A sample: "I used to think I was the only person in the world with fears."

A short story of mine called "The Train Tracks" is up at Wattpad. A sample: "Then she darted forward, across the tracks at the same instant the train ... thundered toward us."

And I loved John Vorhaus's "Verbing the Nouns" over at Writer Unboxed. A sample: "The truth is, I am kind of a grammar nit. When I see an apostrophe catastrophe ... I feel morally bound to correct it, or at least mock it. But the other truth is that I do reinvent the language every day, and I do it will full madness of forethought. (See? See what I did? I just did it there.)"

Happy reading and writing, and may the storms pass lightly over us all.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Five

A quintet of things to do and think about this weekend, in between watching weather reports for the approach of Frankenstorm Sandy:

1. Save the indies. Want to help some indie bookstores? Books of Wonder (New York) is doing an online fundraiser right now, with special art- and book-related gifts for different donation levels. BoW is a fantastic children's bookstore that hosts tons of events and really supports authors (and readers, of course!) Please click over and donate if you're so moved.

Another indie bookstore that a community is trying to save is Chester County Books and Music in West Chester, PA. If you're in the area, please drop by there. They're also having some multi-author events!

2. Skype an author--for free. Kate Messner has collected a list of authors who Skype with classes and book clubs for free. Pass it along to your favorite teachers, librarians, and book-club organizers!

3. Breathe. Professor Nana blogged recently about time management, to-do lists, and how it's okay to be dormant sometimes. A sample: "Like many of my friends and colleagues, I have a tough time saying NO. I agree to things thinking they will not take much time and then discover that I have said YES to so many things there may not be time to do them all."

4. Ponder. Here are a couple of snippets from my writing notebook. The first is, "Nobody else is going to tie your bow." That was supposed to be a note for something I wanted to blog about, but the trouble is, I'm not sure what I meant by that. Food for thought! On the other hand, "You are freer than you know," is obvious--in fact, so obvious that I don't have much else to say about it, and can't turn it into a whole blog post.

5. Enjoy the literary flair of scientists. I learned of this via The National Weather Service's Extended Forecast dated 3:13 PM EDT, October 25, began in sober meteorologist-speak ("Despite a modest cluster of outlying deterministic solutions and ensemble members from the various modeling centers"), and continued with jargon such as "amplifying polar trough" and "hybrid vortex." It then veered rather startlingly into creative and literary territory: "... once the combined gyre materializes, it should settle back toward the interior Northeast through Halloween, inviting perhaps a ghoulish nickname for the cyclone along the lines of "Frankenstorm," an allusion to Mary Shelley's gothic creature of synthesized elements."

Now, was the possessor of this golden quill a frustrated English major who was shunted into weather forecasting? Or a Renaissance man or woman, comfortable in the worlds of both meteorology and literature? I don't know. All I know is: YOU ROCK, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE.

And stay safe, everyone.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

In the weeds

Writers talk a lot about the difficulty of the publishing world: the uncertainty of getting published or getting read, the whims of the marketplace. Those difficulties are often set against the joy of the writing process. And it's true that generally, writing is more fun than marketing.

But there are times when the writing itself--the craft part, not the marketing--is tough. When you don't know how to start something, or how to finish it. When you don't know how to fix what isn't working. When you can't stand to look at the page for another minute, because you have read the words there so many times.

Those moments can come as a shock, especially after a long period of smooth drafting, or a bout of revision when everything has seemed to click. But that's just the way it is sometimes. It happens especially if we're challenging ourselves. There's always a way out (or through), even if it's frustrating that the way is not immediately apparent.

Sometimes, in those moments when we have to stop and search for the path out, or wait for it to reveal itself, unexpected benefits come.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pushing boundaries

I went to an author event recently for an author I've seen before. His events are consistently packed; people pay to see him; they wait in long lines to get their books signed. And I've been thinking about his appeal, about what works so well.

He's funny, for one thing, and funny is great for live events. But he's also daring. He pushes things to the point where he risks going too far: honesty about the grosser side of human nature; jokes about some things we take seriously and fear intensely. He's not cruel; there's a generosity in his willingness to shine the spotlight on other authors, and to draw the biggest laughs at his own expense.

But it's that daring I'm thinking about today. That risk-taking, that boundary-pushing. I especially admire it at a live event, where you can hear the audience groan, gasp, or laugh, providing the kind of instant judgment that can be difficult for writers to take. He seems to read a lot of pre-published work, and I wonder if he censors his ultimately-published material based on live audience reactions. Does he ever take out something just because it made the audience obviously uncomfortable or shocked people? Or is he more likely to leave in those parts?

When I start asking those questions, I'm not really wondering about his process as much as about my own. Most writers have to decide how deep they want to dig, how much they want to risk.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Practical matters

Writers are generally not known for their great wealth, and today I thought I'd post some practical advice related to corner-cutting, money-wise. IMHO based on some experience (my own and others'), there are things you can skimp on and things it's best not to skimp on.

I've skimped on clothes (thrift store buying, wearing them as long as they're still whole even if they're out of date), hair cutting ("I can keep these split ends another few weeks"), and cars (owned none for most of my life, now technically own half of one, but usually walk or ride the train). My husband is addicted to coupons and strategic, deal-maximizing food-shopping. I don't think any of that has harmed me, and some of it, like the walking, has probably done me some good.

But there are three things I'd advise people to take good care of, even if the costs in time, energy, attention, and money tempt them to cut corners:

Feet. For Pete's sake, get good shoes. No matter how cute the shoes look: if they're hard to walk in, forget them. Get sturdy comfortable shoes that you can walk in. Think arch support and, ideally, ankle support. Your feet will thank you twenty years down the road, and so will your back and knees.

Teeth. It's easier to get preventive cleanings, to brush and floss, than it is to get major dental work. Also, some dental infections can lead to serious health problems. Influenced by my relation to a former dental assistant, I've gone regularly to the dentist my entire adult life, and I think I've had fewer major procedures at my age than anyone else I know. Major dental work is painful and expensive: set yourself up to avoid it if you possibly can.

Eyes. You only get one pair. Make sure they're okay.

This has been your public service announcement for the day. ;-)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Risk and inspiration

A friend and I were talking about risk tolerance the other day. It's something writers tend to think about a lot, since the writing life is full of gambles: financial, emotional, artistic.

I have always been risk-averse. But in my writing, I've probably taken more chances than anywhere else in my life. Maybe that's where I pour all the risk-taking. I drive the speed limit and save for a rainy day, but then I expose the inside of my mind to total strangers. Probably no explanation I can come up with would top this one by Anais Nin.

In other news, Owlectomy posted a wonderful piece about starting new projects, inspiration, pragmatism, and that indefinable spark: "I am not willing to walk around waiting for an idea to hit me over the head, but neither am I willing to take up some idea that seems workable but not especially inspiring, just to have something to work on ..."

And in other other news, I'll be at the Doylestown (PA) Bookshop on Friday night with a great group of authors. Please join us if you're in the area.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Excavating, with a dessert spoon

Two posts have inspired me today: a long one from Susan Taylor Brown ("When you commit to writing a novel there is no guarantee that the story you first start to tell will be the same story when you finally type “the end” and close the book. ... You have to be willing to fight your way through the multiple garbage drafts and revision and spend a lot of time gazing at the screen or the blank pages of your notebook and asking yourself, okay, what happens next and how can I make it work?") and a short one from Beth Kephart ("I sit here, my eyes closed, teaching myself writing all over again.")

The lesson for the day seems to be that every book throws curveballs. Writing a book teaches me a lot, but it doesn't necessarily teach me how to write the next book. It doesn't give me a shortcut. Every book I've written has kicked my butt around the block. Try Not to Breathe almost wrote itself sometimes; it was, comparatively speaking, the easiest book I've ever written. But I say "comparatively" because of those early chapters that I tossed out, the neighbor family that had to disappear because they contributed nothing to the plot, the entire ending that didn't even exist in the first draft because I hadn't yet realized that I needed to close the circle, to knock down a few more of the pins I had set up in the beginning.

Try Not to Breathe came about because I was trying to write a verse novel. No other book I've written has begun that way. They all insist on being written in their own unique Speshul Snowflake ways. It's comforting to know that so many other writers feel this way, that the order of a book begins in chaos for so many of us. Here's to that glorious mess!

Sunday, October 14, 2012


I often talk about the need for patience in the writing world. This past week, I was reminded that patience is valuable while traveling also.

Traveling not only requires patience, but teaches it. When the daily to-do lists shrink from more than a dozen items to just a few (eat, hike, read, spend time with husband), the pace of life slows. There is time to admire the way the sun hits yellow aspen leaves, time to hike up a canyon and view an arch of rock, time to test the echo against a sheer wall of rock (the report from a handclap bouncing back, a second later, as sharply as a rifle shot), time to sit beside a lake and have a sandwich.

And when things don't go exactly as planned--when you discover your car has a flat tire--you discover that what would have sent you into a frustrated tailspin several years ago is something you shrug about. And then the blessings happen. Two maintenance men from your resort happen to be walking by with a compressor, and they inflate the tire so you can get to the rental-car place. When the next glitch happens--the rental place has no replacement cars that day--you find a nearby auto shop that fixes the tire by nine-thirty in the morning, and you end up having a full day of hiking after all. You hike up mountains and around lakes. But the best part is that you haven't freaked out; you've rolled with it. Is it because you've already spent days at a remote guesthouse near Capitol Reef, in the shadow of geologic formations whose beauty shows the slow passing of ages, the nights so clear you can see the veil of the Milky Way? Is it because you're now hiking in mountain country, where you scarcely see another person and you can hear yourself think? Is it because the night before your trip, you were at a memorial service for a friend whose life was too short?

Impossible to say. But while you sit in the auto shop, you just look out at the golden leaves on the mountain behind you, and wait without fretting. At the end of the trip, there has been time to do everything you wanted. Even when the rain pours down on the last day, you head to a bookstore with friendly employees and congenial fellow writers; you have dinner with writers, talking shop about the ups and downs of this life.

Now you begin to ease back into the daily busy-ness.

In closing, I'll say that for those of you near Salt Lake City: The King's English bookstore now has signed copies of The Secret Year and Try Not to Breathe.

And here's a shout-out to Mercer Automotive of Park City, Utah; the employee at the Park City Marriott who recommended them; and the two guys with the compressor.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Stopping the clock

I'll be taking an internet break for about a week, to reconnect with the world outside my computer screen.

In the meantime, I recommend reading this interview with Gwenda Bond at Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog. Especially this part:

"But I also felt like I’d learned that working against some artificial clock wasn’t smart or productive or logical.
There is no clock. There is only you, your own development as a writer, and the support of the people you’re lucky enough to have in your corner."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Books of our youth: Empathy and transformation

My guest-post series continues, with more discussion of the books that influenced us while we were growing up. Today's guest is Laurel Garver, writing about a book that had a great impact on me as well.

When I was twelve and going through a painful growth spurt (four inches in six months), I fell in love with Lois Lowry’s beautiful coming-of-age story A Summer to Die. I was immediately drawn to Meg, the awkward, brainy girl and budding photographer who lives in the shadow of her sister, the beautiful cheerleader. The family moves to the country for a year, and Meg  is forced to share a room with Molly. To escape the constant feuds with her sister, Meg befriends her neighbors--an elderly man and a young couple expecting their first baby. 

When Molly’s constant nosebleeds are diagnosed as cancer, Meg goes into a tailspin, no longer able to hold on to her old role of enemy. She must learn to open herself to love and pain, to become a supporter and survivor when illness shatters her family. 

This story shaped me deeply as a reader and a writer. I realized stories can be more than an escape. They can also train us in empathy. As we walk through experiences with characters and suffer with them, we also vicariously experience their transformation. And better yet, we feel less alone in our own struggles.

That aspect of realistic fiction--creating companionship--led me to dust off a trunked story idea about a teen stuggling through the loss of a parent. I’d lost my own father a few years before and found that giving voice to Dani’s grief helped me journey through my own.

Laurel Garver (@LaurelGarver on Twitter) is the author of Never Gone, a young adult novel about a grieving teen who believes her dead father has returned as a ghost to help her reconcile with her estranged mother. View the trailer. Add it on Goodreads. It is available at, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, CreateSpace.