This post is really a question. Maybe it’s the writers I’ve been connecting with over the past few years, but a lot of us seem to be getting interested in meditation in some form or another. That form, for me, tends to be a mix of wishful thinking, intimidation, and impatience. In other words, I’ve tried it a few times and gotten discouraged by how hard it is to sit in stillness–body and mind. Yes, I know that’s not giving it a fair shot, and I have goals to do better, even if they’re not goals I’m actively working toward. I do manage to get to some kind of meditation/quiet while I’m in a yoga class–I think because my mind gets to think just a tiny bit about what my body’s doing, gets to stay just busy enough that the other thoughts go away and some quiet can ease in. My next step is to get myself to show up to the Sunday morning meditation class they offer at my yoga studio. It’s not too early, so I think I might actually make it there.

Anyway, back to the question: Does reading have a place in meditation or, if not in the specific activity, in the shared goal of quieting the brain. For decades, I have used reading as an escape–not necessarily from any specific problems that might be going on in my life, but from the general business/anxiety that comes with that life. (And I’m pretty sure this is true for a lot of us!) If I have a bad bout of insomnia, I’ll drag myself out of bed and take a book into a hot bath. My recharge routine on a weekend is essentially to plant myself on the couch for several hours with a book (or two!) and just go away. This year, with going back to work part-time, I’m trying to get myself up a half hour early, so I can sit with a cup of tea and a book before the day starts.

readingyoga

Basically, books have always done for me what I think meditation does for people who manage to actively and successfully practice it. It quiets my brain. It settles me down. It replaces the to-dos and what-ifs that can get to circling around in my brain like a whirlpool, replaces them with a story and characters that draw me into another place, a place where my own plans don’t follow. I found this year that if I don’t give myself this time in the mornings, I basically shoot straight from morning wake-up plans to all-day work tasks with no transition, and–honestly–the work tasks are just so much harder to focus on. The quiet spot lets me put the first set of thoughts away and move calmly into the work of the day.

BUT…I’m sure this is why other people get up early to, you know, actually meditate. Without the book. Without the replacement of one story (mine) with another (the author’s).  I am not emptying my brain when I read, I’m filling up all the space with something calming, yes, but something external. I’ pretty sure this isn’t actually the point of meditation, or the process.

Obviously, I’m not giving up the books.

rofl

And I am going to keep trying to bring/thinking about bringing some more meditative meditation into my life. BUT I am wondering whether this kind of mind-resting, if not mind-opening, doesn’t fall somewhere on the spectrum of meditation’s purpose. Not just for readers, but for true meditation practitioners.

Thoughts?!

Lately, I feel like I’m checking in a blogs a lot, but not necessarily posting comments. I know there’s a lot of discussion around about whether blogs are on the way out, and I never know if my pattern is part of a trend or just a piece of my general business? Either way, I know there is still a lot of good stuff out there, and I thought I’d share a few today.

1. First, in case you missed it during the week, a link to my own blog–but to someone else’s post! Annette Dashofy guest-posted here on Wednesday about managing and participating in an online critique group. She’s got great stuff in the post, and if you leave a comment before Sunday night, I’ll enter you in a drawing for a copy of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.

2. Have you been following the Ed DeCaria’s Madness 2012! Poetry Competition? I’ve been popping in and out to see some rounds and give an occasional vote. I’m not a big poetry expert, but when something wows me, well…then I feel like adding my reaction to the count. It’s an amazing concept, I think–each poet gets a random word to build a poem around, and their poem comes up against another poet’s poem, written around a totally different word. Susan Taylor Brown wrote a great post here on dealing with her word and her fears–check it out. I wasn’t sure what page to link to for the contest itself, but here’s the scoreboard for the competition, which does have links to some of the poems. I think! Myself, I’ve just been watching for status updates on Facebook and then following those posts to the poems. Whether or not you’re a poet, I think this is both amazing and fun.

3. I’ve had people see me at the bookmobile, with my (yes, rather largish) stack of books to check out, and sigh that they wished they had time to read that much. Ack. Yes, I get that there’s never enough hours in the day to do all we want, but I also know that nobody in my family would want to live with me if I didn’t get my reading time in. Even so, I totally know what Jennifer R. Hubbard means about the rarity and the delight of just curling up with some reading time, not letting anything else demand your attention or your minutes. And someday, I’m going to get myself away on the kind of reading retreat Debbi Michiko Florence has been scheduling for herself this past year.

4. Until I was scanning my blog roll for links today, I actually missed this post by Nicole at Viva Scriva on getting back to her WIP after a forced “vacation” from it. Oh, so much here that resonates with me this week, plus some of the links that helped Nicole get back on track. Blog links within blog links–that’s what it’s all about today, folks. BTW, if you don’t have the Viva Scriva blog on your reading list, check them out for a few weeks–I’m guessing they’ll be a permanent add.

5. Another post I missed until this morning (okay, maybe I AM skimming too much!) is Jen Robinson’s review of Robin LaFevers‘ new book, Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book 1. I am a huge fan of Robin’s Theodosia books and enjoy her Nathaniel Fludd books, too. Not to mention I read Robin’s blog posts avariciously for her help with plotting. I haven’t read this new book yet, because if the car works and the creek don’t rise, I’m hoping to go buy my copy (and finally meet Robin!) at her Books Inc signing on April 4th. Jen’s review should give you a good idea, though, about why you want to read this book.

6. Here’s a fun post from Beth Revis, where she polled the members of her debut-authors group, the Elevensies, on the top three things they learned in their first year of publication. There’s a definite thread of letting the things that are out of one’s control be, well…out of your control. And another one on getting that next book started.

Enjoy the links, and enjoy your weekend. Happy writing inspiration to everyone!

Thirty years ago (yes, really!), I was reading 700-page novels. In high school, I fell in love with Russian novels (yes, again, really!), and then in college discovered the British Victorian writers and fell, if possible, even more deeply in love (yes, oh, whatever…). It was an extension of what I’d felt when I found fantasy writers like Tolkien and his followers–the experience of being a fast reader who could finally stay with one particular story & set of characters for more than a day or two. Those fantasy series, and these novels…kept going. And, oh, the characters.

When I went on to grad school, I knew what I was going to be reading. More Victorians. I ended up doing my orals on the Bront ës, and my thesis on Wuthering Heights. (And don’t you think, BY NOW, that a spellchecker should NOT try to change “Wuthering” to “Withering?!”) I read and read and read and…

…I burnt out.

Grad school was where I discovered that academia was not the right place for me. That while reading was as necessary as breathing to me, and that–yes–I could talk about a book for hours–all this analysis, this taking apart the author’s meaning and intent, was starting to wear thin. And those long books suddenly felt…really long.

So I switched gears. The last semester I wrote my thesis and took one course: Modern British Drama. 20-50 pages/book, with about 10 lines of text on a page. And lots of laughs.

And for reading pleasure, I picked up Barbara Pym’s novels and…mysteries. (Yes, back to books I could finish in a day-and-a-half.) I discovered Ruth Rendell and rediscovered Agatha Christie. Again…not such long books. Some might say Agatha Christie doesn’t do character–I’d disagree. But I think, in Rendell’s novels and the rest of the mysteries I read in the next few years, there was a connection between the characters in the Victorian novels I’d been reading and these new series. The characters stayed around. And, even while they were busy solving crimes, they also (especially the more modern detectives) had their own life problems–problems that also went on and on, over multiple books, not unlike the never-ending problems that carried Victorian characters over 700 pages.

I still read mysteries. They satisfy something in me that I haven’t yet identified, but probably don’t need to examine too closely–they obviously satisfy that something in a huge number of other readers, or they wouldn’t be so popular. If I’m hanging around too long in just children’s or teen books, or in just fantasy, I find myself needing a fix of someone strong and aggressive, who’s out to solve someone else’s problems, even if they can’t really work on their own in a big way yet.

And then there is the kids/teen lit. This probably makes up anywhere between 80 & 90% of my reading today. Why? Well, yes, obviously because I write it. But more than that, because there is just so much on the market that is brilliant. Honestly, if you want to go as far as possible from the dense layers of Victorian novels as you can–pick up a 200-page realistic YA novel. You’d run out of red ink if you tried to edit one of those books from the 1800s into a story for teens today. (Well, honestly, except for maybe Wuthering Heights, but I may be biased.)

But again…the characters. I think this is the core of my reading over the years. The people who all these writers have drawn onto their pages, for me to immerse myself in. You’d think I would read mysteries for the plot, but I can pick up an Agatha-Christie novel for the third time and still not figure out whodunnit. Because it’s the people she wrote about and all their quirks and attitudes and perfect dialogue that hook me in and keep me reading. It was Cathy & Heathcliff and Catherine and Hareton that made me love Wuthering Heights. It’s the scene at the end of The Hobbit, where Bilbo and Thorin meet for the last time, that brings me back for a zillionth reread and has me in tears yet again. It’s the pain of Lia in Wintergirls that wrenches at me, that makes me need to put down the book for a break and calls to me until I pick it up again.

Character. So, yes, if you look at the books on my shelves today and compare them to the ones that were there thirty years ago, they don’t look so much the same. In fact, you could probably fit three of the books today into the space of one from the past. But it seems, after all, there is a connection, a continuity, in my reading over all these decades. Obviously, it’s the quality of the writing. Most importantly, though, I think it’s the people who that wonderful writing–those writers–created.

What about you? What are you reading today that you weren’t reading years ago? Is it a total switch for you, or do you see a common thread? Drop your thoughts into the comments and share.

Today, Nathan Bransford blogs about letting yourself be distracted from your writing, giving yourself recharge/refresh time away from the current WIP.

You can read his excellent, realistic post here.

I’ve been thinking lately about how I’ve been having at once the most relaxing summer I can remember AND managing progress on two WIPs and non-writing work stuff. It’s good, you know. And thinking about the one thing I consciously added more alloted-time to in the past year–reading. I think this has a lot to do with my productivity.  With the recharging that Nathan talks about.

If you follow my blog or my Facebook updates and tweets, you know I read a LOT. I also read fast, so it’s not as many hours as it probably seems, but still…it is the crucial distraction/escape in my life. Yes, I can justify it in other ways, because reading and writing are so interconnected, but to be honest, that’s not why I do it. It’s the one thing (after family & friends) that I do completely by choice and am unwilling/unable to give up. I realized last year that I had cut down on it and that, consequently, I was a lot more stressed. I missed the escape that I get from all the wonderful worlds other writers are creating for me.

So I read.

What’s the distraction that you know, takes you away from extra writing hours, but that there is no way–for good reasons–you’re giving up?

So, this past weekend, I headed up to Sacramento for the SCBWI Spring Spirit conference. Which ROCKED. I may do another post this week telling more about it, along with perhaps a few car photos from my research trip, but what I wanted to talk about this morning was Bruce Coville‘s talk. Or part of it.

The part where he talked about why we write for kids. (Hint: It’s not the money.)

Slight detour first. I am very clear, personally, on why I write for kids and teens. Yes, I hope that they’ll read and love my books; yes, I think about them as the audience while I’m writing; yes, I try and figure out the best way to make my story connect with their world. But the full truth is that I do this writing…for me. I write because I need to, because I love the way it feels when words come off my fingers onto the keyboard. I write specifically for kids and teens because those are my favorite books to read, because the “club” I most want to belong to is the one whose members are the authors whose books I devoured as a kid. I admit it–I write for very selfish reasons.

I hear so many people talk about the book that most impacted them, the book where they first recognized themselves or the one that changed the way they saw the world. Honestly, I don’t have one of those. Every book that has hit me strongly as a child, as a teen, as an adult has hit me as an author. As in, WOW–look at the characters this writer created. Look at the way they built that world. Look at how they made me cry. Look at the flow of the prose. The books that are listed in my head as the most important are the ones that just made me–even more than before–want to be a writer. While I may have loved their content, the content is not what hit my life–it was and has always been about the writing.

But Bruce said something in his keynote that made me start thinking. And the basic thread is one we’ve all heard before, but it struck a chord for me Saturday. He basically created a picture, onstage in front of us, of The Kid who has just discovered reading. The one who has found THE BOOK (whether it be about content or prose) that, for him or her, has just opened up an entirely new world–the world of stories on a page. I don’t remember what that book was for me. The story goes that my big sister came home from first grade. played School with me, and taught me to read. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that my favorite thing in the world was to curl up with a book. I don’t remember the magic of discovering that feeling.

I do, though, know what that magic looks like on the face of another child. I know what it looked like on my son’s face; I know what it looked like on the faces of his young schoolmates, and I know what it looks like on the face of the boy or girl sitting on the floor of the bookstore or library, oblivious to everything that is going on around them.

I’m writing a picture book. I’m not sure whether or not a picture book can, by itself, create this magic–because they are so often part of cuddling with Mom and Dad, a grandparent, a teacher, an older sibling, a babysitter. I’m not sure whether or not this magic can be created with anyone else there, or if it is a simple, pure communion between a child and the book (and, yes, I think an e-reader qualifies!). What I think may be true is that there is an age-range, or reading-range, where the magic happens, and that it does fall somewhere between picture books and MG novels. Between the time the child starts to love stories and the time when they have already become book addicts and are now adding books and hours to their habit. I’m not sure if/when I will write a story that falls into that range, but I think–after this conference–that it must be a goal to think about.

I don’t know if Bruce Coville was the one who created that magic for my son. It may have been Bill Watterson, because the first time my son asked if he could read in bed before turning out the light, it was so he could lie there and “read” Calvin and Hobbes by himself. It may have been Roald Dahl. It may have been any one of the authors he loved when he was young. What I do know, and remember, is the click I heard in his reading world when he found Bruce Coville’s books. These were some of the first books I got him that were by an author I hadn’t read, didn’t know about. They were if not the first, some of the first, science-fiction stories he read. They were some of the first books that I picked up to read to myself, because my son loved them so much. My son’s favorites, and mine, were the Sixth-Grade Alien series, with Tim and Pleskitt as best friends. And then, of course, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, because…hey, it had a dragon. And a disappearing magic shop. And lots more.

They didn’t have any of the Pleskitt books at the conference bookstore. They did have another favoriteThe Monster’s Ring, which I think has the (very brief) scariest moment I remember reading in any of Bruce Coville’s book. I bought a copy, and I asked Mr. Coville to sign it (with, I hope, a minimum of gushing). And I’m giving that book away here.

I’d like to give it away to someone with a child, or who knows a child, that hasn’t read Coville’s books yet. I’d like to send this book off somewhere to a boy or girl who might not yet have fallen in love with books, or not yet found their stories. I’m not going to ask any of you to pass a test for the giveaway, or prove that you know the perfect recipient. If you just love these books yourself and absolutely need a copy, then go for it. If your son or daughter had this book and something happened to it, or they just can’t speak at the thought of having a copy with Bruce Coville’s signature on it, I totally get that, and they should get a chance to have that! But if you think around your world, and you know a kid who needs to find their book, who wants to love reading but hasn’t quite got there yet, then–please–enter. I want this giveaway to send a little bit of that magic into the world.

So…all you have to do to enter the contest is leave a comment below. But if you’ve got a story to share about your book, the one that grabbed you as a child and made you a reader, or the one that did that for one of your own kids, a student, whoever–I’d love to hear that, too.

I’ll run this contest for a week, and I’ll draw one random winner next Monday, April 11th. Feel free to spread the word!

One of the happiest things in my life is having a son who is a big reader. If you’d asked me for a list of dream goals for my child, when I was pregnant, this would have been right up there at the top–along with a sense of humor (check) and enough height to get down the dishes on the next shelf, that one that I just can’t reach (check, check). Partially, I’m  happy for him, but honestly–there’s an element of selfishness in this, too. Finally, I have someone around all the time to talk about kids and YA books with! My husband reads, too, and we’re bringing him along on the you’re-not-too-old-for-this ride with authors like Eoin Colfer and JK Rowling, but he also spends a lot of time sharing gory, lost-on-the-mountaintop books with me, as well as those science articles about what my brain’s doing right now, thank you very much.  He also does read a lot of sci-fi and dystopian, which is probably my son’s favorite genre right now.

Anyway, my son is a big reader, but he doesn’t always jump right onto a new bandwagon–he does a lot of rereading, and he looks first for authors he knows and loves (Thank you, Sir Terry Pratchett, for being brilliant and prolific). He definitely responds to covers and to jacket blurbs. Or he doesn’t respond.

The bottom line is that, when I want him to try something new (one of those books that I’ve fallen in love with and want someone else to join me in fandom), I have to be a bit sneaky. I can’t just paraphrase the story as I see it, because we don’t latch onto the same things in that kind of a description. So I just share a few passages out loud, here and there, as I read the book–pieces I know he won’t be able to resist.

Here’s the one that caught him in Frances O’Roark Dowell’s Falling In:

     So, should you stop reading this book? I mean, you thought you were getting a witch, and so far all you’ve gotten is two girls and an old woman herb doctor. I don’t blame you for wanting your money back. Let’s march right back to the bookstore and demand–
    
Wait a minute.
    
I thought I saw something.
    
Yes, I’m pretty sure I saw something over–over–over–
    
There.
    
It’s a piece of paper falling out of a book.
    
I wonder what it says.

That’s it. Chapter end. Seriously, who could resist?

Not my son. He’s about halfway through the book and loving it–loving the language, loving Isabelle Bean, loving the way she spirals thoughts into imagery.

Personally, I think publishers should hire me to pick that line–that paragraph–the one that shows the story’s absolute irresistability, and they can print it right on the back cover. Okay, they can keep their paraphrase, too, but we know what will grab those readers. :)

This week I isolated one of my worries about my current WIP–the worry that I don’t (yet!) know how to convey the tension the story needs and deserves. I’m not the most comfortable person with tension. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, books were invented for me (yes, for me) to escape life’s stresses.

And then this character came along and told me in no uncertain terms that she was a strong and powerful girl, that she had to face some very bad things to bring that power out, to see it for herself. She also told that I had to write those things.

Yes, okay. Sure. No problem.

I’ve been plotting and writing and developing my characters, and I’m definitely making progress. In the back of my head, though, has been that worry–what about the tone of the story–it’s feel. This is, I think, partially a matter of voice, and partially a matter of things like sentence length, action and pacing, how long and how intently I as a writer and Caro as a hero dip into her reactions and emotions. The one thing I’m clear on is that–I’m not yet clear on all this. :)

So I’m going back to the basics. I don’t know who said this first, and I don’t know what number they used, but I’m thinking of the advice about reading X quantity of books in a genre to really know it. Yes, I know there’s a before in there, too–read X books BEFORE you try and write something. Well, I’m going to cheat. I care too much about this story, want to be writing it too much to wait until I’ve read 100 or 1,000 tough, edgy, painful YA novels. So I’ll be reading and writing at the same time.

I’m going to do a little osmosis–just read and read and read and let the words of the experts seep into my brain. I’m also going to do a little analysis–pick a few favorites and read them a few more times, though, then try to actually see what they’re doing, how they’re creating that tension. How they’re writing the words that hit me in the gut.

And, yes, I know I’m running the danger of losing myself so much in their styles that I start copying those styles on my own pages. It’s happened once or twice before–when I was reading a lot of historical novels, at the start of this project, I had to back off for a while. Also–and this one was a lot more fun–when I was on a binge of reading Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series, my 12-year-old male protagonist started talking way too much like Mia. So I’ll be watching myself for heading into derivative-land, and pulling out for a bit if I need.

But I’m going to read, and I’m going to write. And I’m going to trust in this combination that hasn’t ever let me down before.

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