Thursday, March 31, 2016

Upcoming event

Where I (and at least 17 other authors) will be on Saturday, April 9: YAPA Book Con

The event will run from 10 to 4 and will include panels, a teen writing workshop, book sales, door prizes, etc. It's at the Fredricksen Library, 100 North 19th Street, Camp Hill, PA, 17011. Come by if you're in the neighborhood!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When to write

Working, exercising, doing taxes, hiking, eating, doing laundry, showering, picking out clothes for work, catching the train, checking email, explaining to the cat why it is too late to go out, going to the doctor, getting a haircut, looking up the weather report, looking up the latest delegate count in the primaries, cooking breakfast, going to the ATM, packing lunches, refilling prescriptions, sending cards, reading, making lists, crossing things off lists.

This is how I've been spending my time. Also writing, somehow fitting writing in there. There is never enough time, there will never be enough time, there will never be a lack of other things to do. I fantasize about having long clutter-free days in which to write, but in the meantime I write when I can and the words pile up somehow. And all that living feeds the writing too, and lines of writing come to me while I am doing other things. There will never be a perfect time. Or maybe this is the perfect time.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A strange business model

I had been doing some YA reading that hit upon a couple of my pet peeves. One of them is the part-time job with nothing to do. I've seen a lot of YA books where the main character has a job in a place that is constantly deserted, with barely any customers and little work, and I keep wondering: How does that place stay in business? And why haven't they laid off the main character, or why did they hire him/her in the first place? Sometimes this is explained by having the business owner or manager being an eccentric who is not overly concerned with profit, but most of the time it's just a mystery.

The only job I ever had with significant down time was baby-sitting: after the kid was in bed and the five million scattered toys were put away, you could read or watch TV. But at every other job, I've always had far too much work and far too little time to do it in. At the first minimum-wage job I held, the bosses were constantly watching us to make sure we were busy. They liked to motivate us with this stirring bromide: "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean."

This pet peeve doesn't ruin a book for me, but it does take me out of the story a bit.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

One nest

Once again, the pair of red-tailed hawks affectionately known as "Big Red" and "Ezra" are nesting at Cornell University, watched by an ornithological webcam and a host of birdwatchers, expert and amateur. For the past four years, this pair have successfully hatched three eggs and fledged three juveniles while we watched. (Today, Big Red laid her second egg of the season. The next egg is due March 19, if she stays true to her established pattern of laying three eggs three days apart.)

Every year, I follow these hawks and their offspring; I await the eggs, the hatching, the fledging, with bated breath. A community of online chatters follows the webcam, teaching one another about hawk behavior, trying to guess when the next milestone will occur, worrying whenever a fledgling is injured.

It's comforting to me to think that these birds' drama is being played out all over the world in millions of nests. Birds go about their business of mating, nesting, and raising young, unwatched by any camera, and I only know about it because I've been privileged to see it happen at a handful of nests on a handful of webcams. When one of the Cornell hawks first learns to fly, I know about it because one camera is trained on one nest. The camera's focus on this nest shows us a story. A story makes us care about a particular life, or small group of lives, but that story also stands for all the rest--all the stories happening around us, the stories we might not otherwise notice.

Friday, March 11, 2016

When you need a break

Today the best thing I can do is point you toward two blog posts by Becky Ramsey. The first is about what happens when we push ourselves too hard, trying to keep All the Things on our plate. Or, as Becky describes it, "Welcome to The Embarrassing Evening in Which I Was Taught My Own Lesson." The second is about refreshing ourselves and getting back in touch with what (and whom) we care about: "Sometimes I think we need mandatory thinking time. Back when I was teaching ... we had a mandatory reading time, twenty minutes every day, I believe. Everything stopped."

Here's hoping you can take your break when needed.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Finding your voice: An ongoing process

This post from Victoria Marie Lees on narrative voice in memoir made me think about my own foray into first-person nonfiction. "Writers need to think who is telling the story," Ms. Lees writes.

It's something I didn't think about much during my early drafts of Loner in the Garret. I thought a lot about what I was saying and what the reader might want, but not so much about how I was saying it. One critiquer of this book said she wanted to see more of my humor. She wanted me to commit more, not to hold back, not to be so mild and diffident. To let my unique voice out.

This honestly hadn't occurred to me until I read her feedback--that the "I" who was speaking in my nonfiction book was an important character, just as in fiction. That a first-person narrator not only can, but probably should, have a personality.*

Last fall, I took a memoir workshop taught by Beth Kephart. At one point, we students exchanged our work with another person in the class. We were only doing short in-class exercises, so we weren't seeing much of one another's work--a couple of pages at most. And for that reason, I thought the person who gave me feedback was mistaken when her primary reaction to my writing was, "It's funny."

But then I thought about how I had re-drafted Loner in the Garret to let in more irreverence, to express more of what amuses me about writing and publishing (along with what frustrates, intimidates, and elates--so much about this gig is absurd). I thought of how people had told me that my YA novels, as dark as they can be at times, were relieved by an edge of humor. I know my fellow workshopper didn't mean that I was joke-a-minute hilarious, but she saw something in my work that I have thought about cultivating more, ever since.

What are you still learning about your own voice?

*After reading nonfiction by writers with such memorable first-person voices as Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, Dave Barry, Joan Didion, Anne Lamott, Anne Fadiman, Richard Rodriguez, Sarah Vowell, etc., etc., this should not have been a surprise. But hey, I can't always connect the dots myself, which is why I need critiquers in the first place.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Yes and no, old and new

In Loner in the Garret, I wrote about the power of "yes" and the power of "no," the times when we need to say one and the times when we need to say the other. Last year was a time when I said "no" a lot, as I needed to. Recently, "yes" has been more prevalent.

The one constant is the challenge of managing that shift, balancing the old and new. Finding room for what is added, knowing what and when to subtract. I talked with a friend today about decluttering, and she mentioned how it is not just about physical possessions, our material "stuff." It affects every area of our lives: what to keep, and what to let go of. Where to spend time and energy, not just money and space.

The changes are exhilarating. Making room for them is always a challenge.