Saturday, June 29, 2013

Treasure hunting

Today my husband and I went treasure-hunting, also known as shopping at used bookstores.

Among my finds:

A hardbound biography of May Sarton;

An illustrated edition of Little House on the Prairie (because the one I already have has several blank pages due to a printing error, so I've long meant to replace it);

A book about traveling in India;

A paperback of The Cat Ate My Gymsuit to replace my decrepit, falling-apart version;

A beautiful hardcover edition of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea:
(It has this cover, only it's not the large-print edition).
It's inscribed from one woman to another, and I am free to wonder who they were and what the book meant to them.

We also bought a few other items, and the total for 9 books and 2 movies came to about $20. Now you know why I call it a treasure hunt.

I do love new books, and buy from "first-run" bookstores all the time. But there's something special about wandering through stacks of old, out-of-print books, wondering what you'll find. Puzzling over old inscriptions. Finding editions that are no longer produced. Exploring cubbyholes, and admiring old woodwork, and discovering a book that you've long wanted, and chancing upon a book you've never heard of but want to try, and petting the bookstore cat. It's still an adventure.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I always knew I would be a writer. Except for the times when I wasn't sure.

It's my day to post at YA Outside the Lines. This month, we're all posting about where we were on graduation day, where we thought we were headed, and where we actually ended up. My post is about the Class of 1984, living in the shadow of George Orwell and the Baby Boom, and belonging to the generation known as "X." It's also about what happens when you want to be a writer, but you don't see how you can possibly make a living at it, but you still wanna, but you decide to be practical, and then ...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ups and downs

Just a few weeks ago, tennis player Rafael Nadal hoisted the winner's trophy at the French Open (Roland Garros) for a record-breaking eighth time.

Today, he lost in the first round at Wimbledon, to 135th-ranked Steve Darcis.

It's the kind of whiplash-inducing turnabout that occurs in tennis ... and writing. One day everything's clicking. You're living up to your full potential, using every tool in your toolbox at the right time. You've mastered the game. The next day, you're stumbling around as if in concrete slippers, and nothing's working.

Some people say you're only as good as your last game (or book), but I don't buy it. In Nadal's case, he already has a Hall-of-Fame-caliber career even if he never picks up a racquet again. A story, or a draft, that misses the mark doesn't mean a writer has lost the magic either.

A bad day doesn't erase the good ones that came before, nor does it prevent more good ones from coming.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Perfection achieved, temporarily

A warm, but not oppressive, summer afternoon. An armful of new library books. A free hour on the back porch, with the trees fully leafed out overhead.

Sometimes "living the dream" really is attainable.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Getting started, and Hour of the Rat

Today, I'm the guest on Jody Casella's blog, On the Verge. She's been doing a series of interviews with different authors on how they got their start in publishing. If you're in how I got mine, feel free to hop over there.

Also, a happy book birthday to Lisa Brackmann, author of Hour of the Rat, which is out today. It's a follow-up to the suspenseful Rock Paper Tiger.


Lisa is one of the people I mentioned in the acknowledgments of Try Not to Breathe for not sending my emo writer emails (you know the ones, the "writing is kicking my butt waah waah and why don't I just go study banking or something") to the spam filter, but instead responding with encouragement. As gracious writer friends do.

But the real reason to check out her book is this line from the synopsis: "... as soon as she starts asking questions about the missing Jason, Ellie realizes that she’s stumbled into a dangerous conspiracy that may or may not involve a sinister biotech company, eco-terrorists, an art-obsessed Chinese billionaire and lots of cats—one that will take her on a wild chase through some of China’s most beautiful—and most surreal—places."

Missing people. Suspense. Conspiracy. China. And CATS.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Books lost and found

Is there a book that you read and loved as a child, but now you can't remember the exact details of it? Maybe you remember the character's name, or the way the cover looked, or one or two plot details. But mostly you remember that you loved it and read it to pieces, and now you wonder what was the name of that book, and would you still like it as much?

For years, I've sought a certain book that I remembered checking out of the library when I was younger. It was in the A or B section of juvenile fiction. I thought it might be by Joan Aiken or maybe an author named Benary-Isbert. I remembered there were two characters named Andrea and Dieter, and there were several children in the family, and a brother (I thought his name was Michael) who had died before the events in the book took place. And I was pretty sure there was a sequel that I'd also read.

Not much to go on, right?

But through the Magic of the Internet, I have finally found the book. I was first able to determine that Joan Aiken didn't write it (though she did write The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, another book I reread frequently but don't remember much about now). Then I discovered that the dead brother named Michael actually came from a Jean Little book I'd read around the same time, Home from Far.

There was, however, a dead brother in the book I was looking for. As well as Andrea and Dieter. And the author's name is Benary-Isbert.

It's The Ark (a title that didn't ring a bell at all--strange what we remember and what we forget!). And the sequel (which also exists!) is called Rowan Farm. Now that I know, I'll get my hands on a copy sooner or later.

Have you ever tracked down a half-forgotten book?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Endless lists

I think many of us feel rushed and frantic but believe that eventually, if we keep working harder and faster and longer and making new plans and trying new systems, we will get to that magical place where we have crossed the last thing off our lists and are now officially Caught Up and On Top of Things. Until then, we strive, apologize, juggle, and worry.

Can't rest yet, right? Because there is more to do.

But, says Randy Ingermanson, there is always more to do. "You will never get your life under control, if by 'control' you mean that all your lists are finished," he writes. He also says, "If your life isn’t fragmented, you might be a robot. Or God. Or deceased. ... I can’t tell you how you SHOULD deal with it all. But I can tell you how I deal with it. If it sounds like it might work for you, then try it."

I know it's comforting for me just to stop chasing the elusive Zero In Box. But his whole article is worth reading. I found it here, reprinted on the blog of Kristi Holl, via a link from Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog Cynsations.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wisdom on the web

Today I bring you linky goodness from several corners of the internet:

At Laurel's Leaves, Laurel Garver discusses how to provide room for main characters to grow and change. "By starting at the wrong place emotionally, I'd left no room to grow beyond simply intensifying that one emotion. ... For conflict to work well in a story, it needs space to escalate over chapters. This might mean rethinking the emotional starting place for your protagonist."

Janni Lee Simner is hosting a great guest-post series on her blog called Writing for the Long Haul, about how to sustain a writing career in this volatile world. To demonstrate, I give you an excerpt from Judith Tarr: "I also realized, slowly, that for all the trauma and the drama and the hard times, I was lucky. I had gone through my own collapse while the publishing world I’d grown up in had also changed profoundly—and I was forced to adapt."

I also suggest following the whole series as it develops on Janni's blog.

A post that really spoke to me was this one from the blog A Wild Ride, on that elusive something that can bring a story to life:
"So I set out to discover what, exactly, created that feeling of vividness. Is it voice? Prose? Plot? Characters? Setting? Some mystical combination of all these elements? Some perfect proportion, magical Golden Ratio, that I missed? Is there a formula?"

Finally, there's Stacey Jay discussing how someone once told her her dream was never gonna happen. We all know those naysaying voices. They seem to ring with such authority ...
But as Stacey says: "... I just think about that flat out denial of my chances and how wrong that prophecy turned out to be, and it helps give me the courage to try to new things, to keep going when I see signs pointing toward possible doom. ... Haters are going to hate, there's no stopping them, but those negative voices telling you that you will never achieve your goals are not predicting your future. Those voices are just voices and you CAN prove them wrong."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Return of the fireflies

The fireflies are back.

My desk faces a window. On summer nights, fireflies seem to be attracted to the light in my writing office, or maybe the lights on the computer.

They crawl up the window screen, blinking. So far, my computer has not responded with a pledge of undying love; it has not run off to raise a new batch of fireflies. (My computer must be known in the firefly world as Hard to Get.)

I was sitting here thinking Serious Writerly Thoughts* and then I was distracted by this green light winking at me, and now I'm celebrating another milestone that marks the cycle of the seasons. It's firefly time again, time for those faery-like lights on the lawn. It's summer, my favorite time of year.

*Like, "What should I blog about?" and, "Should I have potato chips tonight?"

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Capturing what would otherwise fade away

I'm not a visual artist, but I had the urge to paint something today. Specifically, the rose petals I saw lying on the sidewalk. Brilliant pink, tapering to creamy white, they made me want to capture them in some permanent way.

Which got me thinking about the creative urge. The world gives me rose petals, and I want to give rose petals back. I see a rose petal and want to paint a rose petal. What is that? Is it a generous impulse ("give rose petals back") or a selfish one? (Am I trying to own the world, to make it mine?)

I've just finished reading Sylvia Plath's journals, and the last section consists of detailed descriptions of her neighbors in England: their illnesses and flirtations, their children, their problems, their wallpaper, their clothing, and what they served for tea. It's clear she used these as exercises, practice in writing description, practice in observing. In one entry, she chides herself for not paying closer attention to what someone was wearing so that she could record it in her journal.

But because she became famous, these anecdotes are now part of history: the little annoyances and frictions between neighbors. There's a scene where Plath is picking daffodils from her property to sell at the market, to try to bring in some extra income, and she has a conversation with a neighbor in which she believes the neighbor is angling for free flowers. That scene struck me as so human. It plays out countless times between neighbors, co-workers, family members--just replace "daffodils" with any of a thousand other favors.

Probably nobody is safe around a writer: we are always taking notes.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

First job

I guest posted for Shaun David Hutchinson, who solicited true-life "FML" stories in preparation for his upcoming YA novel, FML.* I shared fond (ahem) memories of my first job. It wasn't the uniforms, the time clock, or the aching feet that bothered me most ...

Hop on over and reminisce. If you drop in there and mention your worst job ever, you'll be entered in a drawing for both of my books (which was extremely generous of Shaun to offer).

*If you're wondering what FML stands for: the F stands for an impolite word (the same one the F in WTF represents), and ML stands for "my life." I loosely translate the expression as, "I'm having a Murphy's Law kind of day/week/month."

Monday, June 3, 2013

Crossed off the list

This past weekend, at an art museum, I saw an exhibit that was one huge wall (two stories, I believe) completely covered with to-do lists on which the items had been crossed out. I think the title of the piece was "Accomplished." You can see a little bit of it (about ten lists) in the graphic on this page:

I'm a list-maker myself, but I feel as if I never get to the end. The image of all those lists, all those cross-outs, struck me as possibly happy and possibly sad. I don't think I could be as productive as I am without lists; on the other hand, there are times when I would love to clear the decks and not have so much of my time spoken for, planned, prearranged.

What do you make of the crossed-out lists?