Friday, November 30, 2012

NaNo Update: Day 30

Yup!  I did it!  My WiP has broken 50,000 words, all in the month of November.  And it feels awesome.

Of course, 50K isn't a whole YA novel.  I've got a lot more writing, and then a heck of a lot of editing ahead of me.  (I can't wait!)  But for the moment, I'm going to take a minute to do something else.

See, I have no idea whether this book will ever see the light of day.  If I'm realistic, odds are good that it won't.  But it's already indebted to so many people.

So if you'll indulge me for a minute, I'd like to do a mini-acknowledgments section to celebrate winning NaNo.

Thanks to Mr. S for not minding about all the laundry and dishes that piled up periodically while I was writing.

Thanks to my family/friends/former students and colleagues who acted interested rather than skeptical when I said, "I'm working on a YA novel."

Thanks to my awesome friend Nicole who made me the world's greatest "Last Writing Day" podcast.  It was on when I crossed 50K ("Eye of the Tiger", to be exact--I feel good about that.)

Thanks to Willow, my kitty, for glaring at me when I watched Brotherhood 2.0 videos instead of writing and purred contentedly on my lap when I was thinking about getting up, so I had to keep writing instead.

And of course, thanks to the people I've met through this blog.  So many of you were NaNo Buddies, posted updates of your own, cheered me on, and generally made me feel like part of a community.  If you've left comments here, responded to panicky emails, exchanged tweets with me, shared your own writing, sent tea, or answered weirdly specific medical questions, you know who you are, and I really, really appreciate it.  I've been noodling around with the idea of NaNo since I was a freshman in college (2003!) and I never even came close before.

If you're NaNoing yourself, then good luck getting to your goal by day's end!  If you've already gotten there, CONGRATULATIONS!  And if you spent the month working on something else entirely, I hope it went well.  And if not--well, it's snowing as I type this, I'm curled up under a blanket, and I spent the morning ordering Christmas presents.  December is just about upon us--a whole new month, just waiting for new reading/writing/life goals!  (More on those later.)  For now--Happy November 30th, everyone!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NaNo Update: Day 27

Progress (word count or a general status update): 39,054.  Definitely behind.  I can still reach 50K by Friday but it's gonna take a lot of work and word sprints.

Current Mood: Zen-like.  I've almost reached the point where I don't have a choice--I just have to write.  All the time.  As a life-long procrastinator, I've come to love that points.  I do not miss deadlines (barring huge, life-altering catastrophe, of course.  No need to jinx things.)  I do paint myself into corners, but only ones I know I can get out of.  What must happen will happen.  I'm also feeling zen-like about the quality of my work.  I've noticed a lot of people I think are awesome talk a lot about how un-awesome they are (or how un-awesome they feel, anyway).  I completely understand this impulse!  But this time, I've managed to ward it off by getting excited for the whole long process of writing--and this is only the first step!  Of my first novel!  Which I will revise up the wazoo, and very possibly trunk, and then repeat the process a bunch more times.  So just at this moment, I'm indifferent to quality.  I just want there to be a thing by the time I said there would be a thing.  The first song I played on the clarinet undoubtedly sounded like garbage.  But I liked learning to play it, and I couldn't have sounded less garbage-y later without that first, garbage-y song.
Inspiration: I'm gonna light a fire under myself in this space by saying out here in public that unless I'm caught up and have 45000 words by tomorrow at 7:30, I can't go to my beloved, looked-forward-to-all-week pub quiz.  I do not miss trivia.  Even when the rest of the team bailed and forgot to tell Mr. S and me, I insisted that we stay and play as a team of two (eventually three, when a friend we called managed to make it in.)  We got our butts handed to us but I didn't care.  That's how much I love trivia.  So these words are getting done.  Full stop.
Recent Favorite NaNo WiP Line:
“I don’t know, Rob.  You didn’t see him.  He looked really messed up over the whole thing.  And he definitely got upset when I asked him about it to begin with.”  I bite into my turkey sandwich and chew--it’s a little dry.  I wonder if anyone had time to grocery shop or if this is last week’s turkey.

“‘Messed up’ being the key phrase, genius.”  Rob pulls out a baggie of cheese and crackers.  “He’s totally ragey.  I’ve even seen it a little in practice, if somebody screws up or does something stupid.  Usually it’s just like, BAM, and then he puts on some speed or adds more weight or whatever and just gets really intense about his workout.  I thought maybe it was ‘roid rage or something.  But now I’m starting to think he’s just cracked.  Did your dad and Mary-Ann say anything?”

I shake my head.  “After the Earls went home, they both pulled out their laptops.”

Rob smiles.  “Quality time in the Miller household.”

“Yup.  But I bet Duke’s mom said something to Mary-Ann.  They were totally spilling their guts to each other by the third glass of wine.”  Rob mulls this over while inhaling a peanut-butter sandwich.  If I know him, it’s a peanut-butter-potato-chip concoction he’s been eating for years.  

“Maybe you can find out what she knows.  She trusts you, right?”  He slurps a box of grape juice.  “Go talk to her sometime when Bridget’s not around.  Go into it like it’s ‘adult-to-adult’, kind of.  Like, ‘there’s something I think you should know about the young man Bridget is seeing.’”  

I narrow my eyes.  “She thinks I’m responsible, not middle-aged.  And I don’t have anything to tell her, not really.  As far as I know, Duke is still just in the anger phase of the grieving process, and I would be totally betraying Bridget.  We’re actually starting to feel like siblings a little bit.  I’d like to hang onto that, if I can.”  

Rob frowns.  “Do you want Bridget to like you, or do you want her to stay alive?”

Non-NaNo News (because life DOES go on): We're having one of those weeks where we a) have tons of leftovers and b) didn't have time to grocery shop.  I like the challenge of trying to go a full week with just what's in the house, and I love it when I can actually make something delicious with what we already have.  Yesterday, the result was this: 
I used the Rustic White Bread recipe from Smitten Kitchen, but did part white flour, part whole wheat, and part bread flour.  I think it's a pretty indestructible recipe, as bread goes, so mess around with it.
In my downtime (ha!) I’m reading:  
 Jane by April Lindner.  OMG, I can't put it down.  But I have to, to write.  But I'm not happy about it.  I mean, I've read Jane Eyre, and this is a pretty faithful retelling, but it's such a great story that I can't tear myself away even though I know what to expect.  It's like Jane Eyre had some kind of unholy demon child with People magazine or the E! network.  Loving it.
You should read this blog post: The Deceased Language of Speed By: Maggie Stiefvater
Because:She's the coolest.  Also rally car racing, border crossing, and potentially spoilery license plates.

Gratuitous Photograph:
Willow's face when she saw that I was watching old Brotherhood 2.0 videos instead of writing.  She's good at helping.
As always, thanks to Katy Upperman for the template!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Thanksgiving Edition

To my American friends: I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving weekend!  And for everyone else, I hope you had a nice weekend just in general and maybe had something nice to eat at some point?

My mini Jello molds--they tasted better than they look (I think I might file these away for Halloween, as they look a little gruesome.)  And of course I forgot to take a picture of the green bean casserole I made, which was just as good as we all remembered.

We had a great dinner on Thanksgiving itself with my husband's family, and then since we weren't traveling, I was able to get home in time to do some actual writing!  Not so on the day after, when we wound up at the mall on Black Friday.  Seriously.  It took probably half an hour to park (and that was mid-day, after all the really crazy sales had gone off already.)  We had put ourselves on the wait-list for the WiiU as a Christmas present to ourselves, and apparently this is when they were in stock.  So off we went to pick it up.  It's pretty cool but I'm mostly excited to be able to play Rock Band again since our old Wii's been on the fritz for a while now.

Then yesterday, we headed to my hometown to see my dad.  We had a great dinner at the new-ish restaurant arm of a legendary Italian bakery there (the kind of dinner where your mouth tastes like garlic for about 24 hours).  It was a nice visit, even if it was a short one--we drove back to Buffalo today and we're currently watching football (Sigh.  The Bills lost again.  It's not like I think they'll win when we put the game on...but I always hope they will.)

Anyway, all this travel and rest gave me time to finish and review three books this week for the first time in ages.  (Weirdly, I realized they all feature notably dead mothers.  I'm gonna seek out something a little different next, I think.)

Also, a PSA: The book I read last night and today, The Pursuit of Happiness, is set on the Jersey Shore (but with real, likable people, not at all like the reality show.)  The author, Tara Altebrando, is donating her portion of the proceeds of the e-book (Kindle or Nook) to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts through the end of November, so you have a few more days.  She's got the same offer for another book, What Happens Here, and the ebooks only cost $4.99.  More info here--I think it's a pretty great deal.

So, in short, I'm thankful for:
  • Good food
  • Time with family
  • Time to write
  • Traveling (with good books!)
  • And of course, you guys!
What I Read This Week: 

  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #1)The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been thinking a lot about what sets a YA fantasy (which this is not) apart from an adult fantasy (which this is), and about the standards by which I evaluate each one. Since I write mostly about YA, it's hard for me to review this book without first figuring out how to meet it on its own terms.

I liked this book. I wound up liking it a lot. But it took a lot more mental energy for me to read than most YA books. That doesn't mean it's more literary or even more complex. I do think the scale of it seemed larger even than most other YA fantasies with geopolitical plots (I'm thinking of things like Girl of Fire and Thorns) but it's hard for me to put my finger on how so. And there's definitely wide variety in YA in terms of length, complexity, and scale, so really the comparison here is to other long, dense, complicated books (I might recommend The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to fans of Paolini's Inheritance series or Railsea by China Mieville.)

However, this book feels markedly non-YA. There certainly is language in here that I can't recall ever seeing in a YA book (and I've read and loved some YA with foul-mouthed protags.) There is a fair amount of sex and violence, too, but that's certainly nothing new to YA readers. I think the big difference, and what marks it as distinctly adult despite having a fairly young MC, is that our heroine Yeine has so much life experience already. It's true that she is placed in a new situation at the beginning of the book and must learn to adapt to it, but she is already well-versed (or at least, versed) in sex, violence, and politics. A leader in her home country but considered a naive barbarian in the capital, she navigates her new role as someone who has already made the transition from child to adult. In YA fantasy, the protagonist must usually make a similar transition, but it's happening simultaneously with the other transition of coming of age.

Ultimately, Yeine makes another transition, and one that I find much more interesting. I won't spoil it for you, but it did leave me very curious about the next books in the series. I enjoyed the humor that popped up in the unlikeliest of place throughout this book; I was drawn into the world and left wanting more (in the good way.) I appreciated the interesting take on gender roles in Yeine's matriarchal society and the mythology of the world in general. I do plan to read the other two books; I might just need some breathing room between them.

Notes from the BlenderNotes from the Blender by Trish Cook
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this book up because in one way, it's pretty similar to my WiP (newly blended family with a girl and guy about the same age). However, it is about a million times more hilarious than I will ever be. I loved both metalhead/part-time Unitarian sexton Declan and "nerves of steely Neilly", but Declan was the one who made me laugh out loud. His voice is so goofy and gross and sincere all at the same time, which I think is how I remember my close guy friends from high school. Neilly also totally won my heart, though--Declan's life is sadder (his mom died when he was young) but Neilly's is undeniably more complicated. (The day she finds out her boyfriend kissed her best friend at a party, she books it for home only to find her mom scantily clad with a guy she doesn't know--who, it turns out, is going to be her new stepdad and the father of her new baby half-sibling. Oh, and her mom has been free to date this guy because her dad left her mom for another guy! And their wedding is coming up, but Neilly's dad's fiance's son has been totally MIA and weird about the whole thing, and the happy couple obviously wants their kids to hit it off.)

The whole story is the kind of implausible that makes it totally believable--down to the vegan metal band--and kind of irresistible. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who likes wacky plots with surprising amounts of heart, and definitely for anyone who likes their teen guy voices strong, funny, and frequently raunchy. It's a well-balanced story and is ultimately very sweet under all the dirty jokes.

The Pursuit of HappinessThe Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the kind of book I wish I had read in the summer, rather than during the first snowfall of the year--but I really liked it anyway. Betsy's mother dies at the start of the summer before her senior year. She's left with a falling-apart family trying to survive on fast food, a best friend who suddenly doesn't seem to fit, and a job at a historical reenactment site. And yes, there is a boy--he's the carpenter's apprentice by day, and a surfer with a complicated life of his own by night--and support from surprising places. It's the kind of story you've probably read before--well, maybe not the historical reenacting party--but if you're like me, it's told in a way that will make you love it all over again. Betsy is sympathetic even when she's not--her own self-awareness helps with that, as she tries to figure out why she sometimes says and does things she wishes she hadn't--and watching her follow her dying mother's instructions to find her passion was my favorite party of the story. There's more focus here on Betsy as a person than there sometimes is in summer romance stories (even to the point where Betsy's passion project actually, briefly, delays her romance.) I appreciated that, even as I kept rooting for the romance because really, I'm only human.

Pick this one up if you need a breath of summer at the shore or a sweet romance. (Bonus for me: the stretch of Jersey Shore in the book is, I'm pretty sure, the same stretch we used to visit with my cousins who lived there. It took a pretty devastating beating in Hurricane Sandy, so it was nice to revisit it in a book, at least.)

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NaNo Update: Day 20

Progress (word count or a general status update): 30,358--which is close to where I'm meant to be for my schedule, but despite a calendar full of numbers, feels like it can't possibly put me on track to finish by NEXT WEEK.
Current Mood: Exhausted.  I still love my characters, and I even came up with a new bit of plot and a new ending that I'm totally jazzed about, but the actual committing words to paper has gotten way harder and slower lately.

Inspiration: “When I find myself on a death-spiral of doubt and insecurity and comparison and other soul-crushing habits of the mind, I remind myself: Just put your head down and do the work.”
Goals as of Today: I'm meant to be at 32,500 by the end of today.  Mr. S is working late, so I have a little extra time, but I'm still not sure I'll get quite as far as that.  Still, I'll do my best, and I'm vowing not to go to bed before 31,500 at least.  If necessary, I can squeeze out an extra 1,000 tomorrow.
Recent Favorite NaNo WiP Line:
“So, are you an anchovy man?”  Maggie changes the subject and I smile at her gratefully.  

“For you, I could learn to be.”  I’m doing the best I can to make up for my texting faux pas.  

“Gross, don’t.”  I think she means the fish, but then she adds, “I hate it when people change who they are for the person they’re dating.  I love anchovies.  That doesn’t mean you have to.”  

“Fair.”  I nod.  “But if I hadn’t decided to try new things, I would never have gone to Duke’s party.  And I never would have met you.”  She thinks that over for a minute and we walk in silence.  

“What do you get on your pizza?” she asks finally.

“Sausage, usually.”  She makes a face.  

“Does it have those little brown seeds that look like bugs?”

“You mean fennel seeds?”  I laugh.  “Yeah, sometimes.”

She squinches her face up and takes a deep breath.  “Well then, in the interest of trying new things, I will let you have some of my delicious anchovy pizza if you will let me have some of your disgusting bug sausage.  But you have to promise you won’t pretend to like anchovies if you really don’t, just like I promise that there’s a good chance I will spew sausage all over you if it’s as gross as it looks.”
“Wow, you’re quite a salesperson.”  She smacks my arm.  “No, I’m serious.  You really know how to rev a guy’s engines.”  She laughs in spite of herself.  “I promise I will not perjure myself over anchovies.”  
“You better not.  Pizza court is the highest court in the land.”

Non-NaNo News (because life DOES go on): Our Thanksgiving is starting early this year, with a Wednesday night dinner at my in-laws' (who are also hosting the big day.)  They made sweet potato ravioli; I am making these bizarre little jello molds with cranberry sauce, apple, and pineapple (but no nuts because that just seemed a bridge too far.)  I will let you know how they turn out.  I can't resist weird retro foods.
In my downtime (ha!) I’m reading:  I finished The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms!  I feel so accomplished!  Also, it was good--if you're a fan of fantasy and are looking for the adult version as opposed to the YA kind, I definitely recommend it (more on that Sunday.)  I'm also reading Notes From the Blender by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin, because it is also a contemp with dual narrators about what happens when you suddenly get a step-sibling of about your same age.  Other than that it's very different from my WiP and so far it's hysterically funny.  (Awesome boy narrator alert, BTW.)
You should read this blog post: On Hate By: Shannon Hale
Because: I know I just linked to Shannon Hale's blog in my last one of these, but this post is so lovely and such a good reminder about how to be people in the world that I want to spread it around as much as possible.
You should also read this these blog post posts: Dear Teen Me: Listen Up and Dear Teen Jess, By: Jaime Morrow and Jessica Love
Because: This weekend I linked to Erin L. Schneider's awesome video promoting the new book Dear Teen Me, in which several excellent writers/bloggers shared advice to their teen selves in six-word memoir format.  Erin shares her story in that post, but Jaime and Jess have added their own stories since then.  I love hearing stories from bloggers I dig, but I also like reading these posts because it helps me to remember how things felt in high school and how differently I think about them now--important perspective for anyone writing YA.
Gratuitous Photograph:
Pre-jelled mini-Jello Molds.  Fingers crossed!
As always, thanks to Katy Upperman for the template!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Library Edition

You GUYS: I have a library again!

Let me explain.  Ok.  So.  My library in New York?  Gorgeous.  Absolutely beautiful...on the outside.  (A few of you saw it last year, as it hosted some very cool author event that I had to work during.  Sigh.)  It's all brick and stone and used to be a courthouse.

Inside?  Well, I went once.  And...I was unimpressed.  Sure, I could have requested books, but that would require planning, and what I have always loved about libraries and bookstores is serendipity.  I'm a compulsive book browser.  Show me a bookshelf and my head automatically tilts sideways to see what's there.

Plus I was a fifteen minute walk from Books of Wonder.

But I grew up in the library!  Seriously.  I met my first friends through library story hour when I was like two years old, a few of whom I am still friends with.  My first job was as a page in the children's room.  I loved my library SO MUCH.  So when we moved, it was only a matter of time before we went to check out our local branch and get library cards.

On the outside, it's totally modest, a low-slung brick building that might as well be a post office.  Cute, but nothing that would stop you in your tracks.

Inside?  It's delightful.  Warm, cozy, an adorable children's room, and a medium-sized but VERY well selected YA section.  There's even a little animal that lives on the checkout desk...a gerbil or a hamster, I'm not sure, because it's usually curled up in its little Habitrail. 

So since I am STILL reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I decided to grab some quicker reads from the library this week.  It was hard not to regress to my childhood habits and take out twenty books at once (that is not an exaggeration), but ultimately I settled on five and read two this week.

What I Read This Week: 

 Perfect (Impulse, #2)Perfect by Ellen Hopkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two things I need to say up front: I think Ellen Hopkins is a crazy-talented writer, and there is no one whose books bum me out like hers. For whatever reason, I tend not to get that moment of catharsis that makes me go nuts about a book (see my review for Looking For Alaska.) So, for me, Perfect was a really well-told story that I enjoyed, but not a totally consuming story that I loved. I know other people have had that experience. I think it's maybe just too un-endingly grim. (I also recently came to terms with the fact that I can't watch or read Game of Thrones for the same reason.) Just a string of terrible things happening to people--with maybe the occasional neutral thing, or at best a good thing tied to a really terrible thing--eventually becomes too much for me. I think the multiple narrators in Perfect made me like the story more, but love it less. I thought the transitions were really interesting and always timed as little cliffhangers, but ultimately I think it broke up the flow of how much I was invested in each one. And overall, I was more invested in Kendra (an aspiring model with anorexia), Andre (a dancer whose parents have other ideas about his future), and Jenna (not a narrator, but Kendra's younger sister, an angry, sad girl who abuses substances and dates Andre) than in Cara and Sean. I didn't realize that this was the companion novel to one I hadn't read--it may be that I would have been more interested in Cara if I had already read Conner's story.

Anyway, I know many of my students would have loved this, and I know many of my friends have loved it. I recommend this to anyone who likes dark contemporary or stories told in (often really gorgeous) verse.

Boy Meets BoyBoy Meets Boy by David Levithan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How do I describe the universe of this book? In Paul's town, it's nearly utopia. The local fast food outlet has been transformed into a vegan co-op. PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is as active as the PTA. The quarterback of the high school football team is also the homecoming queen. And at the five and dime, things still cost a nickel or ten cents.

Outside his town, things are more like our world. Paul's friend Tony, for example, camped out in a nearby forest for a week after coming out to his devastated, deeply religious parents. But the story is set mostly in Paul's town, among a cast of characters that I can best describe as Glee meets Weetzie Bat. (And while I have a lot of issues with both of those, I actually mean that in a good way.)

What struck me about the town Paul lives in, where everyone is free to be pretty much whatever, is that it brings the story down to individuals and the consequences of their actions. Too often, stories about gay teenagers focus on the consequences of social injustice--which is something that absolutely should be written about, because it's sadly very real--but it was really nice to read a story in which the A-plot had nothing to do with that, and everything to do with how it feels to be confused about and conflicted between two important relationships. Paul falls hard for Noah, the new kid in town, but Paul's ex Kyle is suddenly back in the picture. The A-storyline follows Paul as he navigates those tricky waters for the first time. It's perfectly executed and more than once made me feel the stomach-plummeting "what have I done" that land-mined all of my high school relationships. The rest of the book is given over to Paul's friends Joni and Tony. Joni is suddenly dating a new guy, and she's changing in ways that Paul can't stomach. Tony is grappling with how to reconcile his family and his sexuality in a way that values them both. I thought both of these storylines were really compelling and moving as well.

It took me a little while to get into this story, but once I did, I was all in. I highly recommend this to fans of romantic contemporary--it's got a totally adorable romance that feels at once totally cartoony (in the best way--like a great Disney movie) and completely grounded in small, amazing details.

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saturday Smiles

This has been a strange, full, lovely week for me.  I have a ton to blog about, and it doesn't necessarily fit into the NaNo updates I've been using or my normal Sunday Sunshine posts.  So:  Saturday Smiles!

Smile #1: On Thursday, I went down to New York City to see some of my former students in their school play.  I got to spend time with many of my students and colleagues, catching up and talking books.  I also bit the bullet and talked about my WiP to anyone who would listen--practice saying the words, "I'm writing a book."  It felt a little less silly every time I said it, and for once my students actually listened to me talk about the writing process!

 Smile #2: While I was in New York, I also got a chance to stop at a few shops in my old neighborhood: David's Tea and Books of Wonder.

Remember how Books of Wonder is trying to raise money to stay in business and thriving?

Well, what else could I do but this:

Unsigned books: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, Feedback by Robison Wells, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Devilish by Maureen Johnson

I mean, really:

Signed books: The Diviners and Going Bovine signed by Libba Bray, Adaptation by Malinda Lo, Breathe signed by Sarah Crossan, and OMG OMG OMG, The Scorpio Races signed by Maggie Stiefvater.  

Smile #3: Yesterday, Erin Schneider posted her stop on the Dear Teen Me blog tour.  I was so excited to be asked to participate!  She asked a bunch of us to send her pictures of us with six words of advice to our teenage selves, as well as a picture from high school.  Mine:

 The bottom picture is me just after senior year of high school.  I was starting to learn to chill out by then--but it took me a bit longer.  Y'all, I was a mess in high school--anything and everything (academics, friends, college apps) could send me into a total tailspin.  Luckily, by college, I was starting to figure out that I needed to chill, and that's when everything started to fall into balance for me. 

Smile #4: Last night, Mr. S and I got to get dressed up and go out to a benefit for the Buffalo public library system.  It was a fancy party in a beautiful old hotel downtown.  Here's my outfit:


And here's a close-up to show off my literary accessories:

Mockingjay pin, necklace with excerpt from Shatter Me that I got from Tahereh Mafi at a signing, and Shatter nail polish (black and white, which was the party's theme, as in "black and white and read all over")
 A ton of people commented on my Mockingjay at the party.  I don't normally consider myself a super-cool party person but man, I know how to dress to celebrate the library!

Smile #5:  I participated in Jessica Love and Kelsey Macke's Sip Swap!

Sip Swap
I bought a mug for my assigned blogger (can't say who it is yet, but she has a really cool NaNo project going and I had fun shopping for her!) while I was in New York, and sent it off today--and lo and behold, my mug arrived today!

The sassafras tea is delicious (after a lifetime of hating on tea, I started drinking it about a year ago and now I have a whole tea counter in my breakfast nook--I'm obsessed), and filled my front hall with its amazing fragrance (kind of like root beer) so I actually smelled my package before I saw it!  The mug is so nerdy and goofy--here's the back:

All of that came my way from the completely delightful Katy Upperman!  So thanks, Katy, and thanks to Jessica and Kelsey for organizing such a fun event!

I'll be back with book reviews and NaNo updates as usual, but I wanted to share all this great reading/writing/blogging cheer with you today!  I hope you're all finding things to make you smile as well!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: Inspiration

And it's Road Trip Wednesday time again!  Woo!

Check out YA Highway for RTW and tons of other great features!

This Week's Topic is: Tons of writers are in the midst of NaNoWriMo, trying to stay inspired as we reach the dreaded middle. Share your most inspiring and/or motivational video, book, or quote on writing!

Today's Road Trip Wednesday asks for inspiration.  Friends, I present to you my hero, Amy Poehler.

When I saw this video for the first time I was sitting in my living room in New York, surrounded by eight-foot-tall piles of all my earthly possessions. I was packing for our impending move and contemplating what it would mean to leave behind the only place I had ever lived as an adult.  I was thinking about my blind leap into (hopefully meaningful and temporary) unemployment.  I was wondering, along with Mr. S, if all the studying he did over the summer would result in him passing the bar exam.

Yeah, this video made me cry.

Because there's Amy Poehler, sitting in her bathtub, imprecisely retelling the titular anecdote from Bird by Bird.  When I was little--really little, but already a sloppy disaster--my mother invented her own take on this idea called "The Story of the Little Girl Who Wouldn't Clean Up Her Toys."  In this story, a little girl (who bore more than a passing resemblance to me, and who I for some reason decided was named Kellogg) never cleaned up her toys.  Like, ever.  And then one morning she came down the stairs and realized she couldn't get into the downstairs rooms at all because all her toys were in the way.  So she yelled for her mom, who said, "Just start with one thing at a time.  Find the pieces to one toy, and put them away.  Then find the pieces to another toy and put that away.  One at a time."  And eventually, one toy at a time, the downstairs got cleaned up and the little girl could get to the kitchen for breakfast.

This is the single most useful piece of parenting my mother ever did.  I have this conversation with myself pretty much daily, especially now that I am doing all the housework.  But even when I was teaching: "Get all the Period Six essays together in a pile, and just get them graded.  Okay.  Now pull together the middle school theater packets.  Good.  Grade those."  And CERTAINLY when I'm writing.  2500 words a day?  Ok.  But before you get sucked down the rabbit hole of checking blogs and Tumblr, write 500.

And you know what?  Our stuff got moved (well, except our couch, but I made peace with that pretty quickly).  And I do miss New York (and can't wait to go visit my students and colleagues and favorite places!!!) but I also love Buffalo--new restaurants, new friends, closer to family, about a million times more space.  I am getting exactly what I wanted out of my time away from work--writing time, rest, relaxation, mental health, time to think hard about my next move--and I've been putting my feelers out and I'm starting to track down leads on some really exciting job opportunities.  AND!  AND!  AND!  Mr. S passed his bar exam, because he's a rockstar and worked really, really hard.

So pals, when you feel stressed, I urge you to listen to Amy Poehler and the wisdom she dispenses from her tub.  Look at all the amazing things she does, and realize, it's ok to feel this stressed.  Just take one thing at a time, work at it, and slowly but surely (bird by bird, one toy after another) you will get through it.

And if you don't need inspiration but you do want to laugh at something really, really strange from this week's Saturday Night Live?  (AND see the exact spot where I caught the F Train every day for three years?)

See the thumbnail shot?  It's from about 0:34 in the video, if it's not showing up, on a subway platform by some stairs.  Right there where he is dancing, that exact spot, is where I waited in the mornings. (I miss a lot about New York but I wouldn't be too sad if I never waited for a train there ever again.)

...I can't stop watching.  Enjoy.

Monday, November 12, 2012

NaNo Update: Day 12

Progress (word count or a general status update): 20,044--on pace for me, and for once my pace actually matches NaNo's pace, so I'm spot-on for today's little mark on the graph.  (Anyone else obsessive about their Stats page?)

Current Mood: Elated.  I had a fantastic session this afternoon in which the introduction of a (possible) murder plotline brought out Craig's sense of humor, which in turn got Bridget to open up and tell a piece of her story that so far she's only hinted at.  Writing it felt like hearing it from her, rather than inventing it, and it devastated me in the best possible way.

Inspiration: My characters.  Is that totally weird?  I'm having the experience of characters telling me things about themselves for the first time, really.  It's awesome.
Goals as of Today: Today's goal was 20,000 words, so I've met that.  Just have to finish up some housework (but I got so much done this weekend!  It's so nice to live someplace clean again!) and make dinner!
Recent Favorite NaNo WiP Line:
Still, when we get in the car, I feel compelled to say something to Bridget.  I’m quiet for the first few minutes, letting Bridget control the radio while I try to figure out how to bring it up.  “Hey, I hear your boyfriend is a crazy murderer” seems too casual.  “When you’re hanging out with Duke, does he ever talk about his hobbies?  Is he into murder?”  Nah, sounds too parental and out of touch.  “Heads up: Duke might try to kill you.”  That one’s somehow too direct and too vague--when? Where? How?  (In the library, with the lead pipe!)  

I decide to go more general.  

“So, things seem to be going pretty well with you and Duke,” I open.  I’m trying to keep my tone light and not let on that I have the weirdest conversational objective ever.

Non-NaNo News (because life DOES go on): This weekend was another good one.  Our Saturday routine includes hitting a farmer's market (which, this time of year, mostly yields delicious things like local wine, chocolate, cheese, and sausage) and a local brewery that we helped fund back when it was on Kickstarter.  Buffalo is a pretty great place for creative small businesses, especially culinary ones.  It's nice to start finding our new community here.  And we took my in-laws out to dinner to celebrate their anniversary!  Sunday, we watched football as usual (and the Bills lost, as usual--at least it was close and not embarrassing) and beat the apartment back into submission.  I have no idea how it gets so cluttered so quickly! 
In my downtime (ha!) I’m reading:  Still The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.  I'm thinking I might walk to the library tomorrow and look for some more novels in verse (I'm woefully behind on Ellen Hopkins!) since they read so quickly and I can get them in here and there while reading other things. 

You should read this blog post: Monday Madness: Objects Vs. Humans By: Vickie Motter
Because: It offers simple, clear instructions on a point of grammar that I don't even really think about, and does so with a sense of humor.
You should also read this blog post: Does Twilight Damage Young Readers? By: Shannon Hale
Because: Shannon has been discussing Twilight really thoughtfully (see also "In Defense of Twilight") and it's a good reminder that the knee-jerk popular reaction to a thing is rarely the best reaction.  No matter what your thoughts are on the books, this is worth a read for the overall question of what books do to (for?) people.

Gratuitous Photograph:
This is Willow, who has recently discovered that heating grates are the best things she's ever seen.
As always, thanks to Katy Upperman for the template!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Cheating Edition

You guys, adult books take so long to read!  I'm nearly a third of the way into The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin and it's good but it just keeps going!  Sigh.  So in order to at least have two books to post about this week, I totally grabbed the quickest-reading book on my TBR shelf (a novel in verse!) and downed it in one sitting.  I don't know when I will finish The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms but I may have to get my YA in first each week and then go back to it.

And before I get to my reviews, a question for you all: Is anyone thinking about going to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York?  It just occurred to me that maybe that's something I might want to do.  Sure would  have been easier for me to do a New York conference last year, but I can still usually get there pretty cheaply and I know my way around and everything, so I'm thinking about it.  (Julie Andrews is speaking.  Y'all, if I met her, I'm pretty sure I would just start to cry.  My history with The Sound of Music would fill its own blog post.  Plus, by then I should be working on revisions and starting to think about querying, so the timing seems good.)  What are your thoughts?

What I Read This Week:

 Story of a GirlStory of a Girl by Sara Zarr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sara Zarr is really great at balancing high stakes with realism. Her characters start out in bad situations--like Deanna Lambert, whose father found her having sex with her older brother's best friend when she was thirteen, and who can't escape that story in her tiny town, and whose beloved older brother now lives in the basement of their parents' house with his baby and girlfriend--but they never teeter over into implausibility. She writes about people in these situations, not Teen Issues. And her characters should be required reading for any writer trying to portray teenagers working through their feelings and making choices in a real, organic way. There are no Adults With All The Answers, or Magic Moments, or Signs From The Universe. Sara Zarr's books are messy. It's what I love most about them. And in the midst of all the mess, she also manages to give her characters some resolution--not perfect, but satisfying. I'm planning to hunt down the rest of her books when I get a chance; if you haven't had a chance to read her work, definitely do so, especially if you like grounded, authentic contemporary stories.

What My Mother Doesn't Know (What My Mother Doesn't Know, #1)What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is often on lists of "classic" YA, meaning it's like ten years old. A novel in verse, it gets right to the heart of some of the near-universal experiences of adolescence: shopping with your mother, falling for someone cute, falling for someone not-so-cute, trying to reconcile your own feelings with your friends' feelings. It's definitely a quick read and it's a lot of fun. Sophie is funny and honest, and I really rooted for her. Some of the poems would definitely work as stand-alones, too--I kept thinking about which ones would grab my students' attention during a poetry unit. If you haven't read this, I recommend it; its relative longevity is definitely justified.

View all my reviews

Waiting in the Wings


Friday, November 9, 2012

NaNo Update: Day 9

Progress (word count or a general status update): 17,634!  Just a titch bit ahead of schedule.
Current Mood: Satisfied.  After my first two chapters, I realized that I needed a second narrator, and I've been alternating chapters.  I looked back at chapters one and two--both narrated by my guy narrator--and realized that they were practically crying out for an intermediate chapter narrated by my girl.  It's like I knew and left space for her to tell part of the story.  So I started writing that chapter today.
Inspiration: The Vitamin String Quartet.  They are a string quartet that covers all kinds of pop/rock/whatever.  My favorite so far is definitely "Hey Ya"--but there are some other great tracks.  I've been listening to them on Spotify.
Goals as of Today: Get the dishes done and clean up the house!  I've met my word count goal for the day, so now I'm off of writing for the weekend.  I made a schedule for next week so I don't neglect my chores so badly.  
Recent Favorite NaNo WiP Line:
  I wake up on Sunday with the disturbingly strong and completely alien desire to go to the mall.  This is unsettling and I want it to stop.  I stumble downstairs in the hopes that some coffee and protein will restore my brain to its correct settings.
Non-NaNo News (because life DOES go on): I walked three miles yesterday!  It felt awesome.  It's a lot easier to be sedentary outside of New York City.   Also, I finally pulled the trigger and bought plane tickets to see my students' play next week!  I'm really excited to hit a few of my old haunts, support businesses in my old neighborhood that were without power for several days due to Sandy, and see my students and colleagues.
In my downtime (ha!) I’m reading: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (a re-read--I made November Cakes this week, and I read a little whenever I eat one!) and today I polished off What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones.
You should read this blog post: Revision, Day One: The Read Through By: Veronica Roth
You should also read this blog post: Revision, Day Two: The Giant List of Doom By: Veronica Roth
Because: We are all going to have some serious revisions (that is, if you're working on a new piece/new words for NaNo) and when Veronica talks about it, it's easy to grasp and sounds actually kind of ok.
Gratuitous Photograph:
Delicious November Cakes.  Recipe courtesy of Her Maggiesty.
As always, thanks to Katy Upperman for the template!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Write or Die and Freedom to Suck: How I Stomped All Over My Previous NaNo Record

So, I tweeted about this, but within four writing days, I had set a personal record: I stuck with a WiP past the 10,000 word mark.  I'm almost embarrassed to admit that this was a record for me, surrounded as I am by people who all seem to be much further along in the writing/possibly publishing process.  I had no idea that when I started blogging I'd meet all these people who had already made so much progress--finished books, gotten agents, etc.  So I spent the year being intentionally vague and mumbly about the two NaNo projects that were languishing in my GoogleDocs, somewhere around the 7,000 word point.

Then this year, BAM.  I'm doing it.  Characters are coming to life.  Relationships are being developed.  Hints are being dropped about what comes next, because I'm pretty sure there will be a "next".

What's Different?

  • It would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge the biggest change: the last two years, I was working at a job that I loved (a lot of the time) but which left me exhausted, frequently frustrated, and with stacks of planning and grading during my nights and weekends.  Now I stay home and cook and clean and write.   HOWEVER.  I think that if I were to go back to work tomorrow, I would make this work because of the rest of the bullets on this list.
  •  I've developed a truly awesome network of fellow writers who I've met through blogging.  Not only are you guys an amazing support system, I've also learned SO MUCH about craft from you.  Talking about the books we love (and don't love) has been a perfect foundational course in storytelling.  All the posts I've read about specific elements of craft have been like advanced electives.  And beta-reading two fabulous manuscripts?  I felt like an undergrad being allowed to sit in on a graduate-level course and occasionally finding something pithy to add to the conversation.   Mostly, though, I just enjoyed the chance to watch people who were way ahead of me work.   Now as I go, I can see things that I'll need to go back and fix that I would have never seen before.  Which leads to...
  • Freedom to suck! A cornerstone of NaNo, I didn't totally get this one until this year.  I was still in the novice writer position of vaguely thinking, "Yeah, I'll fix this up later," but not knowing how I would make it actually any better.  After a year+ of talking and thinking about craft, I'm actually elated when I type something and think, "oh, that needs XYZ," because it's a specific note.  I do NOT stop to fix it, but sometimes I change the font color to remind myself to come back for it.  It's exciting that I can see specific revisions I know I'll need, and it's exciting that I can skip over them for now.
  • Last but not least, I've found Write or Die to be absolutely invaluable.  Since I'm not writing weekends, I need to get through 2500 words a day to finish on time (with half-days for travel and holidays.) I know that I am the kind of person who, if I give myself a break one day, I will fall right off the wagon and never finish.  But 2500 words is a daunting number.  And sometimes I leave off right before a problem I don't know how to solve, which tends to lead to a morning of playing Plants Vs. Zombies, watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and my second-viewing-in-four-months of all of Friday Night Lights.  But when I use Write or Die, I really, truly just have to throw words on the page.  Why?  I set it to kamikaze mode, which actually starts to delete your words if you don't meet your word goal in the number of minutes you set it for.  You can set your own goals; I like to do smaller chunks, but today was a mega-unproductive day until late afternoon, so I managed 1000 words in just under half an hour.  When you realize you're about to lose words, it really makes them flow more freely. 

In short: time is good, but even if you're short on time, I think you can do this.  Having a network of brilliant and awesome writer friends makes everything a million times better.  Let yourself breeze past the things you don't like; you'll come back for them.  Really.  And short, timed blasts can really add to your word count quickly.

How are you getting through your NaNo?  Or, if you're not, how do you tackle big scary tasks? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

NaNo Update: Election Day (NaNo Day 6, Writing Day 4 for me!)

Progress (word count or a general status update): 7,513 words--which is right on schedule for me, as long as I can close in on 10,000 by the end of the day.

Current Mood: Proud--after only three days of writing time, this is now officially my longest NaNo project ever (geez).

Inspiration: Not a quote today--but I have to credit Spotify.  I have two characters who take turns with the narration, and whenever I go to write the girl I make a different pop radio station based on her mood.  It's been really helping.  Now I just have to figure out what kind of stations to make for my guy narrator!

Goals as of Today: Another 2500 words.  I'm pumped by the fact that I've been able to hit my goals so far without too much trouble so I think I'll get there. 

Recent Favorite NaNo WiP Line:
 I think I am having a legit out-of-body experience.  Bridget.  Earth to Bridget.  Did you really say “I like you” to a boy?  Seriously?  He reaches over and takes my hand.  I don’t hate it.  It’s weird.

Non-NaNo News (because life DOES go on): Had a fantastic weekend of Italian food, board games, shopping for delicious local food and beer, and relaxing with friends and family.  I'm trying to make a habit of making a breakfast quickbread every weekend that will last us through the week--last weekend was banana chocolate chip (YUM), this weekend was pumpkin chocolate chip for Mr. S and pumpkin raisin for me (don't worry, I make up for the healthy raisins with a generous slather of margarine.  We NEVER buy margarine--butter all the way--but I grew up eating pumpkin bread with margarine and it's just one of those things.)
In my downtime (ha!) I’m reading: Just finished Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr (if you're writing contemporary this month, either read some Sara Zarr to see how it's done, or don't read any because you'll despair of ever doing it that well.  You've been warned.)  Now I'm trying out The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, on a rec from Mr. S.  

You should read this blog post: My Brush With Election Intimidation By: Literary Agent Janet Reid Because: She shares some useful voting info (tip: Be informed about ID requirements in your state before you go vote!  In New York, you DO NOT need ID as long as you're registered and at the correct polling place.  In some places affected by the hurricane, you can vote at ANY polling place.)

You should also read this blog post: An Open Letter to Undecided American Voters By: John Green Because: I wish everyone sounded like this when talking about the election.  He's respectful and discusses actual matters of substance.  Regardless of who you're voting for, I recommend reading this if only for its style and thoughtfulness.  

Gratuitous Photograph:

Note to Non-American Friends: I know you must be pretty stoked that this whole election thing is ending today (knock on wood).  We'll try not to screw things up too badly for the rest of the world.

As always, thanks to Katy Upperman for the template!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Reading and Writing Edition

First of all, I have to say, I've gone into November with gratitude coming out my ears.  We've been warm and dry (at least inside) in our Buffalo apartment, while the building we moved out of two and a half months ago lost power Monday night and didn't regain it until early yesterday.  My colleagues had to find their way to school on Friday in the midst of flooding, destruction, gas shortages, and transit problems.  My thoughts continue to be with my friends, family, and students who are still dealing with the effects of the storm. 

Meanwhile, here I've been fortunate enough to have the time, space, and electricity to start work on my NaNo project.  I'm really starting to love my characters, and I'm finding new and unexpected things about them even in the first 5000 words that I got through in the first two days.  My outline is helpful but I find that I'm throwing all but the MOST important of plot points out the window as my characters inform me that I was mistaken, that's not actually how it went down.  I've thrown caution to the wind and given a second character some time as narrator, which I may regret later, but for now it seemed like what needed to happen.  Looking forward to getting back to writing tomorrow.

AND,  to cap all that off, I read two really great books this week!  I think I've discovered my biggest lit-crush of all time.  LOVE.

What I Read This Week:

 Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the kind of book that, at 549 pages, I wish was even longer. It felt like the most exciting historical fiction ever--as well it should, since it heavily features real historical figures. Assassin-nun Ismae is assigned to embed herself in the household of Gavriel Duval, half-brother to the Duchess of Brittany, and try to uncover the party or parties responsible for all the treason going on.

Ok, first of all? As an adult who reads YA, it was REALLY fun to have a YA where the hot guy is also, like, an adult. It's great to read YA guys who I wish my teen self could have dated, but Duval is at least 24 (he was 12 or 13 when his 12-year-old half-sister was born. By the end of the book, she's 13. So Duval is actually really close to my age. Which makes it totally normal that I have a HUGE crush on him.) And Ismae is old enough that that's not sketchy (I mean, the whole book was about who the Duchess was going to marry--yes, the 12-year-old--and while she was sketched out by a 50-year-old, there was a guy she was pretty ok with marrying) so YAY for that. I could see this being a great crossover book, actually, because Ismae really is an adult in the context of her world (plus: awesome assassin skills, historical plots, treachery, poison, hot guys.)

Sorry, let me recover from Duval and try to say something coherent about this book. While it did have a large cast, they were so well-drawn I had no trouble keeping them straight. The young Duchess and her sickly but spunky little sister were especially guilty of scene-stealing. I was drawn into the world of the convent, and my disappointment at leaving it disappeared really fast when I got to see life at court. I am a little sad that the next book will focus on Sybella (not because she's not awesome, but because I love Ismae so much) but I'm sure I will have a similar experience there. Don't be freaked out by the size or the historical setting or anything else--this is one of the most readable, exciting, addictive books I've read this year. If you haven't read it yet, pick it up. Soon.

Audrey, Wait!Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book in one day. It's that kind of book. It's the most fun, y'all. Audrey herself is fantastic--exactly the kind of sarcastic and fun and joyful that I've been shooting for since high school. Someone who blasts her music and dances around to it without being a manic pixie dream girl. She does that stuff because she wants to, not because boys will fall down and die on her doorstep. In fact, she really wishes fewer people would show up on her doorstep. You see, she broke up with her boyfriend--and he turned that breakup into a CRAZY HUGE hit song. We're talking "Call Me Maybe" plus "Gangnam Style" plus "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" levels of popularity. (Oh man, you all know Taylor's my GIRL--or you should know that about me, because I am pretty serious about it--but this book made me a little teeny bit sympathetic to her awful exes. Except John Mayer. Shut your yap, John Mayer.)

So poor Audrey is stuck fending off paparazzi when all she wants to do is go to concerts with her best friend Victoria (awesome, but not perfect--and really? If you realized your best friend could suddenly score free lipgloss and backstage passes and a CONVERTIBLE just by dropping her own name? You'd be tempted too), Victoria's amazeballs boyfriend Jonah, and her new guy James (who is in strong contention for Best Teen Love Interest EVER EVER EVER.)

This book is such a blast--for some reason, even after recs from a BUNCH of cool people, I wasn't sure I would get that into it (because I hate fun? I don't know. Don't ask. It was one of those weird gut things.) But this book is such a party. The next time you feel like spending a few hours laughing, reading aloud funny bits, and falling in love, pick up Audrey, Wait!

View all my reviews

Waiting in the Wings:

I read half of this one yesterday.  I'm really enjoying it so far, although How To Save A Life is a really high bar and this one isn't making me feel ALL the feelings like that one did.  But saying something is my second-favorite Sara Zarr book is like saying something is Christina Tosi's second-best dessert, or Taylor Swift's second-cutest song.