Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bird by Bird Wrap-Up

The sticky notes are wherever I underlined...yup, this book is something!

Thank goodness for the blogging community: once I say I'm going to do a thing, there are suddenly people who expect me to do it!  In the midst of a busy month, I definitely would have swept Bird by Bird off to the side once again, and then I would have missed gems like this one:

“Think of how many times you have opened a book, read one line, and said, “Yes!”  And I want to give people that feeling, too, of connection, communion.” (p. 204)

 I found that, with quotes like this one, this book resonated more with me as a reader than as a writer.  Anne Lamott does an exceptional job of conveying the value of words.  She talks about them as a writer, as someone who wants to create words that have that kind of value: 

“That is what I’m talking about: you want your readers’ eye-motes to go click! with recognition as they begin to understand one of your characters, but you probably won’t be able to present a character that recognizable if you do not first have self-compassion.” (p. 98)

As of yet, I don't think I've written anything that would cause any clicking of the eye-motes.  But that doesn't mean I didn't find this book to be valuable to my writing.  Lamott offers a mix of big ideas about writing and nuts-and-bolts advice, some of which tickled just the right part of my brain to make me entirely re-think my WiP!  In particular, this idea, which Lamott returned to several times, really grabbed me: 

“If you find that you start a number of stories or pieces that you don’t ever bother finishing, that you lose interest or faith in them along the way, it may be that there is nothing at their center about which you care passionately.  You need to put yourself at their center, you and what you believe to be true or right.  The core, ethical concepts in which you most passionately believe are the language in which you are writing.” (p. 103)

I realized that this was true of much of my WiP.  So I have a second bunch of orange sticky notes, things that came to me one after the other after the other--things I believe, realizations I've had over the course of my life that feel like my stories to tell.  And I thought about my characters, and it turns out I was trying to put them into the wrong story.  I mean, wildly wrong.  Like, one of my narrators/MCs might not even be a character any more.  But the speed with which the new story fell into place makes me think I'm actually on the right track.  

Overall, I don't think I feel as completely in thrall to Bird by Bird as some people do.  But there were dozens of moments that leapt out at me, that spoke to me as a reader or a writer, and I'm really glad I stuck with it this time.  

And, speaking of the awesome community that got me to actually read this, check out these posts by my blog pals, giving their takes on Bird By Bird:

Do you have something to say about Bird by Bird?  Post a link in the comments and I'll add you to the list!
And don't forget: my February Compliment Challenge starts tomorrow!  Please join in and tell someone why they're awesome tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

February Compliment Challenge

The Setup

A few days ago,  I was really enjoying the book I was reading* and I thought, "You know, this author is an internet person, I could totally email/tweet/Tumbl at her and tell her how much I'm enjoying her book.  And then I thought, "But I won't."

"Self," I said.  "What's your problem?"  I shrugged.  "Are you afraid she won't respond?  Or that she will respond and tell you she thinks you're weird for saying you like her book?"  I shrugged again.  "That's dumb, self."  I nodded in agreement (note: talking to yourself is totally normal.  Nodding to yourself is, undeniably, a little weird.  But bear with me because I think this is a good idea) and I sat down to write this blog post.

The Pitch

How many times have you thought something nice about someone--from Beyonce to an author to your librarian to a stranger on the bus (just tryin' to make his way home, perhaps)--and then not said that thing to that person? Because, AWKWARD, right?  Yeah, me too.  And, lest you think I am just a mean, mean, compliment miser, let me refer you to this awesome post at the equally awesome Kindness Project.  I'm willing to bet it's happened to you.

But hey: it's about to be February!  The month of love!  So why don't we all try to share the love a little?

Feel free to use this; also fee free to make a much, much better image and use that. 

The challenge is simple: every day in February, compliment a new person.  One compliment to one person each day, for twenty-eight days.  

You can write a fan letter to someone fabulous, you can tell your postman/woman that you really appreciate how he/she keeps your mail dry and always gets it in the right box (something that's hard to truly appreciate until the substitute mailman puts all your mail in your landlady's mailbox), you can say, "Cool headphones" to the girl next to you on the train (but remember, in that case, to speak very loudly; she's got headphones on!) 

Of course, giving any compliments is better than giving no compliments, so don't chuck the whole project in despair if you awake on the second of February realizing that you didn't compliment anyone on the first. 

And, because I really want this to catch on, I'm going to sweeten the pot a little bit.

For every person who posts about giving even ONE compliment in the month of February and links up in the list below, I will donate $0.26** to classrooms in need through, up to $500 dollars. 

Now, this might take me a while.  But whatever the total is, I will pay a little bit each month, whatever I can, until I've paid off my pledge.

And friends, this is where I need your help.   I would LOVE to have to give the full amount to Donors Choose--but I need your help getting other people involved (it will take close to 2,000 participants to reach the full amount!) I'm not looking for new followers, but if you can spread the word about this project, I'd be really grateful.  Twitter/Tumblr/FB/IRL/whatever, let people know that this is going on.  All anyone has to do is:

1) Give a compliment!
2) Tell the internet about that compliment (again, via Twitter/Tumblr/FB/blogs)
3) Post the link in the list below.  (Remember, I'll donate even if you just share the story of ONE compliment!  But if you want to share more stories and see what others have done, that will be awesome too!) 

  I'll validate all entries on March 1st and announce the total here.  I'm posting about this now so that there's a few days to spread the word.  If you want to take this idea and start your own link-up or do your own pledge or giveaway or contest or anything else I haven't thought of that will convince people to try this, that's great too.  The goal is to get people to participate, even once, in a whole month of telling other people why they're awesome. 


  • If you don't like talking to people, send an email or tweet, or leave a blog comment.  
  • If you don't want a paper trail, stick to the people you encounter in your daily life: the cashier at the grocery store, the woman who works three cubicles down, another parent at pre-school drop-off, the guy in your gym class you've never spoken to who has mad kickball skillz.  
  • Try to be specific: "You always have the best earrings!"  "I've never seen anyone with handwriting that neat."  "I love how you arranged those Doctor Who figurines on your desk--they really brighten up your cube!"  (This can be accomplished in literally five seconds a day, y'all.)  
  • Oh--and be safe.  In general, people are unlikely to get stabby in response to a kind word, but use your best judgement when talking to new people, you know?

So: Here is the list.  Once you write about your compliment/compliments, add the link.  You will have made someone's day (or maybe even 28 someones) and I will be donating another $0.26 to teachers and kids who need money for supplies and books and trips and all kinds of good things.  You can do this.

Bonus: Because you're awesome, and because I can't say enough good things about Donors Choose, I'm also giving away three $10 giftcards!

a Rafflecopter giveaway  
*Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan--highly recommended!  And I did send that email.  I haven't died of awkwardness yet, so.

**26 cents a person, to honor the 26 students and teachers who died in Newtown, CT.  While I found the whole event too horrific to really talk about, I am inspired by the people who found a way to take some good from the situation by doing 26 acts of kindness.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Sunshine: So. Much. Traveling. Edition

Hey gang.  I wish I could report that my quads are wicked sore because I've been hiking or jogging or moving in any way, but in fact, my quads are wicked sore because I spent six hours yesterday and six hours today sittin' in the car.  It was totally worth it, because we got to spend the hours in between with college friends, eating wings (yes, we drove six hours away from Buffalo to get wings) and playing Apples to Apples.

Now that I've made it through the third consecutive weekend of road trips, I have a couple reviews:

What I Read This Week (And Last Week!)

 Wentworth HallWentworth Hall by Abby Grahame
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well...there's no way around the silliness of this book. It is very much Gossip Girl in Downton Abbey's setting. And, much as I made it through one measly Gossip Girl book but stayed guiltily glued to every season of the TV show, I think I would have enjoyed Wentworth Hall more as a TV show or movie than I dd as a book. Because the story? Delightfully frothy and scandal-ridden. And yeah, I guessed every twist well in advance, but I think part of that is because of the need to carefully describe revealing details rather than simply giving glimpses of them as you can do onscreen. Also, the sets and costumes would be THE BEST, and I'd love to see how the satirical news column that mocks the events of the story while hinting at everyone's secrets (really, Ye Olde Gossip Girl, I wasn't kidding) could be adapted (I'm thinking Punch and Judy style puppets?) And I did root for a few characters, specifically Lila (the ignored younger sister--like a sweet, 16-year-old Lady Edith) and Nora (the gossipy, ambitious, but devoted lady's maid).

Anyway, this isn't Great Literature. But if you're looking for something quick and goofy to bring on vacation or read in the tub, this fills that niche just fine.

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy, #1)Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holy mackerel, this book did a number on me. I mean, on the one hand, it is funny. Kami, Rusty, and Kami's dad in particular made me smile, laugh, and occasionally interrupt whatever Mr. S was doing to read out passages that had made me audibly snort.

And then, on the other hand...Kami and Jared. I can't think of another relationship that I've felt this strongly about since the January I read both The Time Traveler's Wife and the His Dark Materials trilogy and spent the whole month crying hysterically. (And that years ago? So, I mean, this is Really Saying Something.) Like Clare and Henry and Lyra and Will, Kami and Jared have a deep but problematic connection. For their entire lives, they've been inside each other's heads. Each thought the other was imaginary...until they come face to face with each other at seventeen.

I don't want to say too much, because this story is so well-told that I don't want to spoil a second of it. I will say that in addition to fiercely loving and rooting for Kami and Jared, I adored the supporting cast (which contains my new favorite ship, btw.) I loved the quaint, creepy town--and I loved the fact that when the first big revelation came, it was very matter-of-fact and felt simultaneously shocking and obvious: yes, of course that's the truth. Why would anyone be surprised to learn that? (Never mind that I was frothing at the mouth, dying to find out what it was just the page before.)

And then the ending. Ok, how to do this without spoiling ANYTHING AT ALL. Um, it made me feel lots of feelings. LOTS of them. But I won't tell you what kind. Just read it, ok? Seriously. Read this book.

Uglies (Uglies, #1)Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a re-read, but I think I must have read it for the first time in grad school or during my first year of teaching, because I only vaguely recalled the plot twists and turns. I re-read it for the class I'm teaching, so I paid more attention to the science and ethics aspect. Like many dystopian stories, Uglies asks the basic question of how much we would give up to live in a world where everything seems perfect. In this case, I thought it was interesting to note that part of the "perfection" is sustainability, which at least gives the new society some weight. I won't say much about the central dilemma, but I will say that I had fun diving back into the tight plotting and expert world-building of Scott Westerfeld.

View all my reviews

Also Read: 

I'll post a review of this later in February; I read it for the Cybils.

Currently Reading:

Thanks, Katy/Jess/Tracey/Alison!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

RTW: Laughing At Something No One Else Can See

And, I'm back!

I missed my Sunday post this week for two reasons.  One, Mr. S and I took a glamorous vacation to Rochester for the long weekend, and stayed in a charming B&B where we couldn't seem to get wifi.  So, all I had was my iPad, and I kind of hate trying to blog from that thing.   And two, I only read one non-Cybils book this week and it was...a little goofy.  So I decided to hold off until next Sunday.  I hope.  Somehow I wound up with FOUR STRAIGHT WEEKENDS out of town (the last two and the next two) and while all four weekends are for fun things (visiting family, relaxing and checking out a new town, seeing college friends, and SCBWI) I think I might be a little nuts by the time February rolls around.  So I'll do my best to keep up with blogging but, you know.  No promises.  '

But for today, I'm home sweet home and I'm loving this week's Road Trip Wednesday question:

This Week's Topic is: Good for a laugh: who is your favorite comedian or funny book and/or movie?

Y'all, this could be a whole other blog for me.   Seriously. I spend my whole life, practically, reading and/or staring at things on my computer, laughing out loud, and getting weird looks from my friends and family. So to spare you my INFINITE rambling: ten things/people/clips/shows/books/movies that make me laugh, just off the top of my head.  (Caveat: some people may find some of these items offensive and/or dumb.  In fact, most people will find many of these things dumb.  That's just how I roll.  But there is some language and stuff--nothing terrible, but since I try to keep it clean around here, thought I'd warn you.)  This is NOT a comprehensive list (sorry, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Lucille Ball and Maureen Johnson, to name but a few notably absent funny ladies!)

1) Madeline Kahn

2) Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. 

3) Spit takes.  And botched spit takes.  

4) When SNL gets weird. Really weird.

5) Carol Burnett.

6) Kristen Schaal is a horse.

7) Dinosaur Comics 

8) A Christmas Story

9) Marcel the Shell.

10) Michael Sings the Blues

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

RTW: My Very Own Bookstore

You guys, I can barely contain my excitement at this week's Road Trip Wednesday question from YA Highway:

This Week's Topic is: Imagine you get to open your own bookstore. What would it look like? What kinds of books would you sell?

 Well, I can tell you this: if you give me fifteen minutes to design it, it would look something like this.  I know the dedicated shelf for Dystopian Lit is likely to be controversial; perhaps it's a rotating themed display.  All the purple things are chairs or beanbags; the big purple circle is one of those awesome couches that goes around a central spine.  

The astute New Yorkers among you are saying, hmm, you just invented Books of Wonder, and you are not wrong.  The bakery is just a small counter, though.  In light of BoW's recent financial issues keeping a sub-tenant, I thought it would be wise to make a bakery counter that I could personally stock; all I'd need is several thousand dollars for one of these gorgeous industrial mixers and I'd be all set.  I'm used to getting home at 7pm and churning out 14 or 15 batches of something delicious with my trusty 5 qt. Kitchenaid (in Blue Willow, if you're curious) in time to get a good night's sleep (ha!) and leave the house at 7am with enough chocolate chip cookies to pay up on bribes for every kid in every class I teach.  (By my second year, my kids would do anything for my cookies.  When I announced I was leaving last year, the #1 question I was asked was whether I would still be baking cookies and shipping them out from Buffalo.  Several students offered to pay for such a service.)  

So anyway, I'd get up early each day, bake several hundred cookies, then open my doors to my fellow book nerds.  In my dreams, this would be pretty much all YA, all the time, with a section of classics because some of them are actually really good, and besides, sometimes you need to pick up your summer reading or something.  The Miscellaneous shelf would probably be heavy on historical fiction and graphic novels, with some MG and some fun picture books mixed in (and I suppose I would probably need to stock some paranormal romance to stay in business, although it's not my favorite.)  

And the name?  Well, obviously, it's a nod to You've Got Mail, the classic romantic tragedy about a girl and her bookstore.  Sadly, this story is reminiscent of Old Yeller, in that the bookstore gets attacked by a savage beast (in this case, a Fox) and limps along foaming at the mouth until its devoted owner puts it out of its misery.  (Then Tom Hanks, playing one of the great villains of all time, comes along when she is at her most vulnerable and tricks her into dating him or something.)  I love that darn bookstore so much, and the scene where she's sitting in Barnes and Noble Fox Books crying over the Shoes books is one of the most reliably tear-jerking scenes in all cinema.  So I thought it was only fitting that I name my bookstore after the movie.  

Anyway, that's the basic plan.  What would your dream bookstore be like?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Shoplifting: Many Of The Cool Kids Have, In Fact, Not Done It

Leila at Bookshelves of Doom linked to this piece on The Awl about YA authors' experiences with shoplifting.  I do remember at some point as a child getting the feeling that Your First Shoplifting was some kind of weird rite of passage, but one that I was definitely too chicken to do.  I was a Rule Follower to a nutty and inconvenient extent--when my kindergarten bus driver tried to give me a candy bar, I refused to take it because he was A Stranger; weirdly, he shoved it into a pocket of my backpack on my way out of the bus.  I brought it home and sobbed hysterically while my father ate it, convinced that it was poison.  When the same bus driver (quite the stand-up guy, who used to leave us on the bus while he parked outside convenience stores to buy packs of cigarettes) dropped me off across the street from my house and my dad wasn't there to meet me (again, KINDERGARTEN) I refused to cross the street or to talk to the nice neighbor lady who came out to help me (STRANGER), so she had to go up and down the block ringing doorbells to find out where I belonged.

Anyway, I clearly never shoplifted.  But I do vividly remember two incidents that are in the general neighborhood of shoplifting:

1) I am four years old.  I have a forbidden piggy bank stuffed with money from birthdays and Christmases and relative visits.  I also have a vague, dawning sense that said money can be exchanged for goods, namely candy or ponies, in the store.  I take out a five-dollar bill.  When questioned, I claim that it was on the ground, behind the toilet, and I found it there SO IT'S MINE, ALL MINE.

Outcome: Tears, a Long Talk About Honesty, and a savings account that I can't break into with my grubby little hands.

2) I am nine years old.  I have to go to church on Sunday but frankly, after spending all week in Catholic school, it seems a little redundant.  I spend most of mass doodling on the church bulletin with the golf pencils placed in the pews for some kind of churchy pledge drive.  In order to have a solid writing surface, I pull a hardback hymnal onto my lap.  At the end of mass, I collect my things, including my doodled-upon bulletin still wrapped around the hymnal.  Accustomed to having a book under my arm at all times, I do not notice that I have Stolen From God Himself until we pull into the parking lot of my dad's apartment complex. 

Outcome: Hysteria (because I am Going to Hell, obviously), a lot of poorly-masked parental laughter, a quick trip back to church.

What about you?  Were you like the Cool Kids on TV, or were you a rule-following nerd like me, Libba Bray, and John Green?  (Nerds FTW!)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Sunshine: I Could Tell You But I'd Have To Kill You Edition

So this week was a big reading week for me--since last Sunday night, I finished five books!  However, since two of them were for the Cybils, I can't talk about them here yet.  (Of course, I did no writing this week...I guess that's the trade-off.  Oh well.  Tomorrow is another day!)

Before I post my reviews for the week, I want to mention that I'm participating for the second time in the blog comment challenge hosted by Lee Wind and MotherReader.  The idea is that it takes 21 days to start a habit, so for 21 days (starting this past Friday) I'll be trying to leave five blog comments a day.  I credit this challenge last year with helping me start connecting with some of you who I've gotten to know since then, and I also discovered some new blogs by checking out the list of participants.  I encourage you all to sign up and give it a shot--there will be prizes!  The goal is 100 comments by Jan. 31st, so you're not too behind yet!  And welcome to anyone who's stopping by here for the first time as part of the challenge.

Edited to Add:  Check out this opportunity to read and review books from Entangled Teen!  Be a part of "the list!"

What I Read This Week:

The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Jenna Fox Chronicles, #1)The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book to be curiously slow-moving, but that's not necessarily a strike against it. Jenna's growing understanding of her own existence and the larger context of her family, science, and the world around her is a slow-moving process, so it's natural that it should unfurl slowly on the page. After a terrible accident, Jenna's parents were forced to make some extremely difficult decisions, the full extent of which Jenna does not learn until well into the book. The rest of the book shows Jenna coming to terms with the results of those decisions and wrestling with the ethics of what has been done to her. Because it's a book with biomedical ethics at its heart, many of the supporting characters feel slightly underdeveloped (again, I wasn't terribly bothered by this--we get a sense of them, much as we get a sense of Asher and Fiona in The Giver, but really we don't need to know them better than we do. They're likable enough--or in one case, awful enough--and they help get the point across.) I was fascinated by Jenna's story and her parents' decisions, and I did think her grandmother was an interesting character. It wasn't until the very last chapter, though, that I really felt the impact of what had been done to Jenna. When I did, though, I really felt it. Overall, I thought this was a really interesting look at where we could be heading as a species with extremely advanced medical technology, and I was invested in Jenna's process of learning to become her own person. This would be an excellent classroom read and I recommend it for anyone interested in a standalone, non-dystopian exploration of some fascinating dilemmas.

Wither (The Chemical Garden, #1)Wither by Lauren DeStefano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book felt a little like a throwback for me, to the deeply character-based dystopias of yesteryear. I mean, I'm being dopey, but what I'm actually trying to say is that it felt tonally more like The Giver than The Hunger Games or even Delirium. While every dystopian novel balances the needs of a main character with the sociopolitical situation, some land more on the "individual quest for freedom and individual rights" side, and some land more on the "social revolution with explosions" side. I love them both, but I really enjoyed the narrow scope and quiet build of Wither. I won't be surprised or disappointed if the next books in the series bring exploding revolutions, but I liked Rhine's growing understanding of the husband she was kidnapped for, and I liked her focus on simply getting back to her brother. The world they live in is clearly a mess, and we get sufficient detail about that to make it compelling, but this is very much Rhine's story. As of yet, she has not been marked out as a Menace To Society; her battles are with her husband and his terribly creepy father. I got sucked into this one really quickly (clearly; I got it from the library less than 24 hours ago as of this writing) and I look forward to reading the rest of the series. (I will also give Wither points for an ending that is totally satisfying but still makes me want to read the second book. I appreciate that it is not a total gasping-for-air cliffhanger, because I have seven and a half other books I need to read for three separate but looming deadlines, and I won't be able to pick up Fever until probably February at the earliest.)

OriginOrigin by Jessica Khoury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book felt unique in a couple of ways. For one, it was sort of science-fiction but it was set, as far as I could tell, in the present day (or even the recent past?) And it is YA genre fiction AND a standalone which is hard to come by these days but so satisfying. In other ways, it was similar to other books I've really enjoyed: a protagonist who has to make really difficult choices in order to become the person she wants to be, a terribly attractive love interest who spends the whole book, I mean, good stuff. I loved the rainforest setting and I thought Little Cam, the settlement of scientists, was fascinating. I guessed at the ending, but getting there was still exciting and the last half of the book flew by. I can't help but compare it to Tuck Everlasting--this is a much more complex, grown-up meditation on love and mortality, but still has a scene of swimming under a waterfall because I guess that's a genre requirement. Origin started a bit slow for me but definitely picked up, and I recommend it for anyone looking for a story that delivers a great romantic storyline in a package they haven't seen a million times already.

View all my reviews

Friday, January 11, 2013

Process: Weirder Than I Thought

After reading this post  from Katy Upperman about her writing process, I started thinking about my own.  Now, I can't say too much about my writing process for the simple reason that I'm still in the middle of it for my first attempt at any kind of novel-length writing.  But I realized that I can make some predictions based on the similarities I've noticed so far between how I write and how I do other big projects. 

Let's use cleaning the house as an example.

There's the first stage--big and messy and relatively simple.  When I clean, that's when I take the ENTIRE mess--whether it's a room or several rooms--and put it in one place (usually the floor in front of the TV so I can have a little entertainment while I work!)  With writing, that was my first draft, or at least, my currently ending-less 60K words.  It feels really productive, because in a relatively short time, something big and visible has happened--the rest of the house is clean!  I have 60K words down!  Yay!  It took a big burst of energy and focus, but now there's something there.

Next up: organization.  I know I have a lot of work in front of me, so here is where I usually do something that doesn't require as much energy.  In cleaning, I'll sit down next to the pile and start making sense of it.  I'll sort things into piles based on the room they should be in, or the drawer where they belong.  If it's a really big mess, I start by just sorting out trash from non-trash.  This can happen with the TV on, and isn't that big a deal.   For me, this stage of writing has been happening in bits and pieces this week.  I was away from my WiP for too long over the holidays to tackle the ending, so I decided to print it out and read it over.  Since I had it in crummy GoogleDoc format, I decided to go through it in OpenOffice, removing the extra spaces I automatically add after periods (I know it's wrong, but it's muscle memory. I'm working on it!) and making actual paragraphs rather than skipped lines. Now, I know that at this point in the process, these things are not the important parts. Clearly I will be rewriting like whoah before I need to worry about formatting. But I need these little breaks of busywork in a project to let myself gear up for the hard parts ahead.

Once things are more or less organized, I have the steam for another big push.  This is when I actually start putting things away: the TV is off, and I'm moving around.  Could I have just done this from the pile?  Yes.  But it feels nicer now, plus I had that break.  This is what I'm hoping to be doing soon with my WiP--actually doing the work of figuring out what goes where and what is still needed.  I could have just skimmed through my doc and tried to push through to the end, but I have more confidence in getting all the way through if I work from a nicely organized print-out that I spent some time on.

Towards the end, there's always one pile of stuff that I just don't know what to do with.  Maybe it's new stuff that doesn't have a real place yet, or mail that I'm not sure whether to recycle or save for Mr. S, or something that I'm not sure whether to keep out or put away.  I'm sure I'll get here with my WiP--weird problems I'm not sure how to solve.  When I'm cleaning, this is where I often get discouraged and shove the pile toward Mr. S: "What do I do with this stuff?"  In writing, hopefully that's where a CP will come in. 

And of course, all that is just to get me to the end of this draft.  The house might be clean, but come on--the closets could definitely use reorganization, the dresser drawers don't really shut, there are boxes of "misc." shoved under the bed.  At some point, you have to take everything apart, move all the piles of not-quite-working stuff out into the open, and take stock of what to put back and where.  So if housecleaning is like drafting, I can imagine that revision will be a lot like the time that we put ALL our belongings on the living room floor and started from scratch (rearranging the furniture, donating to Goodwill, re-dividing the dresser and closet space).  It was kind of grueling (mitigated by the fact that we watched all three seasons of Veronica Mars that week while we worked) but ultimately really satisfying.   I think that's why I'm looking forward to revision the most--I love tackling a huge project like that, knowing that in the end there will be a product that I'm proud of.

I also have to remember that inevitably, at some point in this process, I lose ALL my energy and feel like I will never be able to move or think ever again.  Every. Time.  I usually take a Netflix-and-computer-game time out, and after an episode or two of something funny and a level or two completed in one of my games, I'm back on my feet.  I don't know what this will look like in my writing process, exactly, but I do know that I've already had days where I hated everything I wrote and days where I went back and found things I loved.  So while I'm sure those moments of despair will show up as I write, I'm confident that I'll get over them. 

What about you?  Is your writing process similar to how you work on other things, pr is it a completely different experience for you?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Debut Author Challenge!

Okay, after commenting on two or three posts about the 2013 Debut Author Challenge saying I didn't have the time to do it...I made the mistake of taking a look at the list of books that would be eligible.  And after I jotted down about fifty titles that I thought might interest me, and culling that list on Goodreads...I still have about 40 titles that interest me.  So I figured, twelve of those?  Yeah, I can do that.

Here's my top twelve, as of right now, in order of their release (at least according to Goodreads:)

Splintered by A.G. Howard, out 1/1/13

Level 2 by Lenore Applehans, out 1/15/13

  Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed, out 1/22/13

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd, out 1/29/12

 Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson, out 3/12/13

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, out 4/2/13

Taken by Erin Bowman, out 4/16/13
 Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, out 6/11/13

 Starglass by the very cool Phoebe North, out 7/23/13

 Control by the awesome Lydia Kang, out 12/19/13

Also two without covers:

Not a Drop To Drink by Mandy McGinnis, out 9/9/13
Landry Park by Bethany Hagen (can't find a release date at the moment.) 

Now, all I need to do is read non-stop three or four days a week, and I should be all set!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sunday Sunshine: Starting Strong Edition

So, as soon as I decided to scale back my reading goal, I of course have an awesome reading week.  See, I was totally gonna work on my WiP this week.  I really was.  But I opened the doc and realized it had been two or three weeks since I had gone back to it and I really needed to read through what I had.  I couldn't do it online, though--way too much to read on the screen.  And I needed printer ink and paper to print the whole thing out.  (And, as it turned out, I was suffering from pretty bad school supply withdrawal, so I realized at Office Max today that I also needed a three-hole punch, and a binder, and some colored pens and post-it tabs.  You guys.  I just love school supplies SO MUCH.)

So, long story short: I didn't write at all this week but I read a heck of a lot!  Two of the books I read I won't be reviewing here at the moment, though.  They were both for the Cybils--Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and a re-read of Code Name Verity.  I've posted before about Code Name Verity and I look forward to posting about Me and Earl...after the Cybils are over. 

I also started reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott.  I've mentioned before that Jaime and I planned to read that this month; we'd love for you to join us!  We're going to do it pretty informally: we'll read at our own paces; Jaime will put up a post on the first half of the book around the middle of the month, and I'll have a wrap-up here at the end of the month.  If you'd like to add a post of your own, email me, and I'll post any links I get in my wrap-up!  Or if you like, just read along and enjoy!

What I Read This Week:

 New GirlNew Girl by Paige Harbison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

New Girl gets points for creatively re-telling a fabulously dark and twisted original (Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca). I enjoyed the modern take on the story--making Manderley a boarding school was clever. At times the voice--particularly the diction--took me out of the story, and some of the references felt either dated or like they'll be dated in about five minutes. I would recommend this to fans of Rebecca, just for the fun of seeing how different pieces got updated.

Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown FloodThree Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood by Jame Richards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this novel-in-verse on a whim in the bookstore today and read it all in one sitting. Told from several (five, I think?) perspectives, this book does a remarkable job of building a world populated with characters I cared about and then crashing in with the flood waters to tear it all down.

If you're not familiar with the story of the flood (as I was not before I read this book), it's hard to believe. In the mid-1800s, a dam was built to create a reservoir for industrial use, perched on a mountain in rural Pennsylvania. Eventually the reservoir fell out of use and into disrepair. In 1879, it was purchased for use as a stocked fishing lake in what became a private club for wealthy sportsmen. The owner of the club made a few shoddy repairs in order to fill the lake, including several modifications that actually made it moredangerous. When an engineer came from the iron works that made up the backbone of the working class town just down the mountain and declared it unsafe, the owner of the club refused to change it. The iron works offered to pay for the repairs, but the owner couldn't be budged. The dam was so chronically on the verge of breaking that the citizens living below it had long stopped listening when anyone warned that danger was imminent by the time it actually broke in the spring of 1889. Thousands of lives were lost, both in the rushing waters of the flood and trying to survive the aftermath (cold, wet, ruined towns with little food, little heat, and the diseases borne by standing flood waters with no medicine to treat them.) The decisions made to keep a few wealthy people happy devastated several towns--which, of course, because this is the way of things--were all working-class or outright impoverished to begin with.

I found the story of the flood itself utterly fascinating and horrifying, and the author recommends David McCullough's book on the subject, which I may pick up. But the fictional stories woven against the backdrop of the flood were just as compelling. I found that some narrative voices worked better for me than others, especially in the beginning, but by the end of the story I was rooting for each and every one of them. I thought the verse format worked especially well for two of the supporting characters: one, a young woman turned to nursing to dull her pain after the drowning death of her fiance in a shallow stream near her home, the other, the young wife of a railroad worker who is half-married to her, and half-married to his work.

This is a quick read with a story that will sweep you away. It started a little slow for me but give it a chance: while it takes its time setting the stage, I think it's worth it for the investment I felt in the characters once the flood came.

View all my reviews

Currently Reading:


Thursday, January 3, 2013

One Word for 2013 (and Cybils news!)

Ghenet and Katy and Jessica and Elodie and Rebecca and Erin (and probably others, my apologies if I've missed you) have all posted about one word that they will focus on in 2013.  It's a great idea, I think: a guiding principle that you can use to help you make the choices you want to make in the New Year.  While I posted some of my goals for 2013 already, I've been thinking about this concept as well.  I think my word for 2013 will be:


As in, "Open, Sesame!"  As in, open to opportunities that come along.  As in, open to trying and failing and trying again (see my resolutions for both driving and writing.)  As in, open to new experiences in my new hometown (as well as beyond it--like meeting new people at the SCBWI conference in February, which is a challenge for me.)  This is an uncertain year for me--as I find ways to get back into teaching in this new city, I don't really know what I expect.  I know that I have one promising lead that seems to be moving along, for something VERY part-time and VERY exciting.  I also have tons of ideas for other jobs I think I would enjoy, in education and in other fields.  I'm going to do my best to be open enough to recognize opportunities when they present themselves, and hope that, with the right mix of perseverance, timing, hard work, skills, and (let's face it) luck, some doors will open for me.  Right now I don't have a hard-and-fast career goal in mind for the end of the year, but I do hope to have at least a steady part-time job that I enjoy by the end of this year.  (And in the meantime, I am so grateful for the luxury of time and support from Mr. S as I try to figure out what that might be.)  

Also, I will be keeping that in mind as I read the Cybils YA Fiction shortlist!  I can't talk about the books as I read them (I'll post short reviews after the winner is announced) or about our deliberations, ever, but I will say that I'm excited to get reading because with the exception of the one finalist that I've read, I might not have picked up many of the others on my own.  A few I wasn't familiar with at all; others  just wouldn't have caught my eye.  But they've all been vetted and vouched for by the hard-working first-round judges (and it sounds like the competition for spots on the shortlist was FIERCE, so I'm sure these finalists are really fantastic.)  So as I read some books that are outside of my usual reading zone, I will be open to their individual merits, as well as to the points my awesome fellow judges will make..  I look forward to potentially discovering some new favorites!  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


 Breaking News: Apologies if you're seeing this, like, EVERYWHERE today.  But I think it's pretty exciting and worth a look!  Tomorrow we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Have you ever wished that a big YA book tour would make a stop in your hometown? Well, here's your chance for that wish to come true! YA2U is a program that features five award-winning and best-selling authors who are holding a contest to see what city they should visit in an exclusive tour stop!

The authors are collecting votes from January 1 to February 15, and any city in the continental US or any Canadian city that has an international airport can win an exclusive visit from all five authors, including an author panel and book signing! Entering is super easy--and if you help spread the word about the contest, you can also enter win a signed copy of all of their books (TEN signed books in total!)--and the book contest is open internationally!

The authors in the program are:

And they want to have an event in your home town! To participate, just got to the YA2U website and let them know what city you want them to come to. And while you're there, help spread the word about the contest and you can be entered to win all of their books--TEN signed books in total! 

Here's why the YA2U Team should come to MY hometown! 
Something I've noticed about Buffalo (the place I've recently started calling home): people here are really eager to make everyone a Buffalonian.  When I lived in New York City, there were endless debates over who got to call themselves New Yorkers, and I'm pretty sure that by general consensus of whoever decides these things, I was never a true "New Yorker", despite living there for five years and teaching public school there for three.  But here?  I think I became a Buffalonian as soon as I decided to move here.  All you have to do is love it here.  And what's not to love?  Beautiful weather (I am not joking; the snow is gorgeous right now, plus summers are mild but hot enough for outdoor fun, and we really have all four seasons), great food with new restaurants and food trucks and breweries popping up every day, and a great library system.  And no city is complete without a beloved indie bookstore; ours is Talking Leaves.  I, like any self-respecting Buffalonian, firmly believe that everyone should visit Buffalo at least once (even if it's just on your way to that nice bit of scenery half an hour to the north!)  So, YA authors: we're not just snow and a bummer of a football team (next year is our year!  Go Bills!)  Come see for yourself how beautiful and friendly Buffalo is.

Why should the YA2U Team come to your hometown? Why not join in the fun today and share with others about this program and your hometown. The more votes your town gets, the closer you are to having your very own personal tour stop! Vote for YOUR town here!

And if you help spread the word, you can also participate in the book giveaway. Tell them that you learned about YA2U from me and we both get extra entries in the contest! 
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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Looking Back on 2012, Looking Ahead to 2013

Happy New Year! While we're all still writing 2012 on our checks by accident, I thought I'd do one big year end/year beginning post!

First things first--favorite reads of 2012!

This is tricky--I have two entries on the list that I literally finished yesterday, along with one I finished a year ago today.  It's always hard to tell what will stay with you on the one hand, and on the other hand you can forget how a book made you feel right when you finished it.  But I think this is a fairly accurate list:

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles, #1)#10

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
(My review)

My Life Next Door#9

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
(My review)

How to Save a Life #8

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
(My review)

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)#7

Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers
(My review)

 The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1) #6

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
(My review)

Ask The Passengers #5

Ask The Passengers by A.S. King
(My review)

Fire (Graceling Realm, #2) #4

Fire by Kristin Cashore
(My review)


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)#3

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
 (My review)

The Scorpio Races#2

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
(My review)

Code Name Verity#1

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
(My review)

That's right--the book I called last January 1st as my book of the year wound up coming in at #2.  It still might be my favorite.  But there's no doubt in my mind that Code Name Verity was the best book I read in 2012!

Goals for 2013:

I have a plethora of goals--I'm calling them goals, not resolutions--so I'll share a few of them here:

  • Finish writing my very first YA MS.  I made HUGE progress in November, and actually got a bit more done in December before the holidays came along.  I'm not sure this writing project is THE ONE--but I'm gonna see it through to the end, even if it's just for the sake of learning the process.
  • Revise said MS.  I'm actually really looking forward to this part, which should help with my resolve to actually finish the thing!
  • Read six different books on writing.  The first one will be Bird by Bird, as I've mentioned here before--some of us will be reading that this month if you want to read along!  On deck: On Writing.
  • Read at least one book a week outside of professional reading.  In other words, anything other than writing books or teaching books.  A much lower bar than last year, but I'll think of it as a minimum. 
  • Start every weekday with a walk.  I started doing this on and off before the holidays.  I got fantastic new boots from my MIL for Christmas so this is do-able even in the Buffalo winter.  It makes me feel better in just about every possible way.  And if I make myself do it early, it prevents that early-morning internet time suck for turning into all-morning internet time suck.
  • Bake bread and breakfast foods (whole-wheat applesauce cakes!  Pumpkin bread!) on a regular basis.  Delicious, and I love baking with half-whole wheat flour!
  • Learn. To. Drive.  I live in Buffalo.  My in-laws bought me driving lessons for Christmas.  This one is no longer negotiable.  Game on, cars!
 So--what about you?  Favorite books of 2012? Any goals in mind for the new year?