Recent Reads

It’s been a busy year. And, yes, I know it’s only February. But I haven’t yet got to the place where I actually feel settled into 2017. Part of that is, of course, from the election outcome and after effects. Part of it is that California is having quite the winter, and I’m not quite sure whether I’ll be working at work or at home or how much time I’ll spend in the car getting to either of those places.

Oh, well, calm is boring, right?

One thing I do know is that I’ve been changing up my reading a bit lately. Typically, I read one book at a time. Mostly I go with several novels in a row and then I might drop in a science or history or memoir read. And then back to a bunch of novels.

Right now, I’m reading one novel and one writing craft book. And I’m listening to a memoir in the car. And I just finished reading some graphic novels, and more are coming from the library this week. Huh. Maybe that’s where the busy feeling comes from. Any day now, someone’s going to discover another entire trilogy from Tolkien or JK Rowling’s going to bring out that seven-book series about Ginny Weasley that she hasn’t told us about yet. Right? And then I can just curl up with one world and stay with it into infinity?

Well, until then…some favorites to share with you.

I read Paul Acampora’s How to Avoid Exctinction twice, because I loved it so much, I claimed it for my next review at MG Lunch Break (showing up there sometime in March or April, I think). I believe I’m picking up another of his books, Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face at the library this week. What a fantastic writer he is!

And I’m almost 2/3 through Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moonwhich was actually on my nightstand before it won the Newbery award. Can’t talk about it much here, because I’m participating in a virtual book discussion of it this weekend, but lovely, lovely book.

I’m about halfway through Lisa Cron’s Story Geniuswhich is pushing me to step back and think about some things in my WIP that, I believe, I really needed to look at. I’m hoping that, by the time I finish, I will really have learned some things that help me keep moving forward with my WIP, maybe even more strongly and with a more focused direction. I’m hoping it’s not just that I hit a dry spot and went, oh, look! Shiny object! Let’s procrastinate from the actual writing and, you know, read about it. I don’t THINK that’s what’s going on, but I’m having to push back at that REALLY IRRITATING voice that’s making me worry just a little about it.

I’m listening to Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime on the commute to and from work. Brilliant book and a bit surreal to be reading right now, with all the crud that’s happening here. If we ever did get to say, oh, something as bad as apartheid can’t happen here, well…we don’t get to say that anymore. Anyway, I almost never listen to audio books, but I thought I’d give this one a try, and I totally recommend getting this version of the book. Noah has a gorgeous voice, and he shifts it beautifully as he moves from telling  you a story to explaining what that story meant to him, at that place, at that time.

When I was in grad school, I discovered Marvel comics (long story). I dip in every now and again these days, and I recently found a new one that I just love. I checked out Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Vol 1: BFF from the library and fell in love. Obviously, I have to return that so other people can read it, but I bought it and Vol 2: Cosmic Cooties and pre-ordered Vol 3. The Smartest There is. Because this is Marvel at its best–fast, funny, and awesome characters. Moon Girl is fantastic–she is the smartest kid on the planet, she knows it, and nobody is getting in the way of her using her brain to save the world. Nobody.

And I even have a book I’m totally exited about waiting for me on my Kindle, for the trip I’m taking to Phoenix next weekend. I don’t only read children’s fiction, it just seems that way. I also read really, really good mystery novels, but I’m super picky in that genre. Deborah Crombie’s Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid mysteries are among the best books being written today–she never lets me down. Her latest in the series, Garden of Lamentations, is going to keep me company at the airport and on the flight. I even bought one of those portable chargers in case my Kindle battery needs a boost.

I may be busy, but obviously I’m never too busy to read. Thank goodness!  Consider each mention in this post a recommendation–grab one or two, and enjoy. 🙂 And tell me a few awesome books that you’ve been reading lately.

 

 

The WIP and Some Things I’m Doing Differently 

So I think I’ve mentioned here before that this WIP feels a little different than others I’ve worked on.

Hey, it has magic! 
That’s not really the kind of difference I mean, but it is new for me as a writer, and it is all kinds of fun. 

But the story also seems more connected to a real kid’s world and a real kid’s concerns than the other books I’ve worked on. Maybe for just that reason, I think I care more about this protagonist, too. And, on a personal note, I feel like this book has the potential to lift me and my writing to the next level. Whether that will be enough to get me agented and/or published, I couldn’t tell you. But a step up is a step forward. 

So, I’ve been doing a few things different as I write this draft. (I call it my 3rd draft, but it has tons of new material in it. If I didn’t abhor the word, “should,” I would tell you that I should have been doing this work and writing this material in the second draft, but let’s not go there.) 

So what’s new for me? 

  • I’m slowing myself down as I write each chapter. I could blast through them again and get more words on the page, but I did that for two drafts already, very possibly one too many. 
  • As I write more slowly, I’m thinking more about the truths of each chapter, for my protagonist and for the secondary characters. 
  • I’m letting myself (or maybe making myself) drop those truths onto the page, however and wherever they land. If I don’t think of it until the last page, when I should be doing the wrap-up or cliff-hanger? I write it. I suddenly and thoroughly derail some snappy dialogue by dumping it all into a horrible explanatory narration “disguised”as a spoken response only by the quotation marks? Write it. Insert it as an entire page of boring internal monologue with zero action? Write it. It’s painful and grates on the part of me that prides myself on pretty prose, but it’s the only way I’ve found to get to the this in,”The scene is about this.” 
  • I’m revising. As I go. Not as I first write the scene. But I don’t put it in my binder until I’ve read it through and, almost always, made changes. Sometimes I’m lucky, and those changes are mostly tweaking. Every now and then those changes leave me still feeling like the scene is a mess, like I still don’t know the this. But most often, I find myself looking at those truths I plopped in, getting a new scene focus, and revising around one of them. And feeling much better about what I do put in the binder. 

Where is all this going to get me? I’m hoping that I’ll end up with a version of the story that is ready for a full-read from some Beta readers. (Even if I still don’t quite understand the difference between critique partners and Beta readers.) Maybe something that is ready for an SCBWI mentorship program, if I can find one that looks doable, location- and time-wise. Maybe something ready for a professional editor (manuscript, not copy) to look at. 

At the very least, though, I think I will end this draft still very much in love with my story and my characters I think I’ll feel as though I’m giving them my full commitment and care. And that’s a lot. 

What do you do to shake up your writing process? How do you push yourself to go deeper into your story and the worlds of the people in it? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

2017: It’s Going to Be an Interesting Year

So I picked my word for 2017 a bit early. Uou can see my blog post about “Bravery,” back here.  And I don’t do resolutions, because–for me–that’s a bit like setting up a bear trap and directing my foot to step right into it. SNAP! Pain and stress and not a whole lot of resolution-based accomplishment.

But…I have been thinking about 2017 (who hasn’t?) and about this turning of the calendar page that feels like more than just that. And I know pretty much what I want to be doing this next year.

I want to do more. I want to write more pages than I wrote last year. I want to (continue to) write more deeply than I have in the past. I want to spend more time volunteering tha n I’ve been doing (which amount has pretty much rested at zero since my son got above parent-volunteering-at-school age, so…). I want to do more fun, adventurous things with my husband. I want to see my friends more. I want to read more books–okay, well, no, I’m probably good if I just read the same number of books I read in 2016!

And–here’s the “interesting” part–I want to achieve all this increase with another more: more calm.

*Pauses for brief moment of hysterical laughter*

No, I get it. Really, I do. If I can put the calm first, then the more will follow. Because the calm will leave me time and space and oh, a magical mental and emotional flexibility the likes of which I have never seen before. Right? Except I typically put calm second. Well, that’s kind of minimizing things–I have been working at putting calm first for many years, and I am way better at it than I used to be. Much of the time, though, it still comes as a secondary step. I experience, I react, and then I remember: oh, yeah, calm. And that’s okay. Better than okay. It takes me out of the spinning and swirling, let’s me take a step back and a re-look at what’s going on. It’s actually all good.

But wouldn’t it be lovely if the calm came first? Always?

Outside of some Star-Trekian brain-and-chemistry transplant that hasn’t been invented yet, that’s not going to happen right away.

So in 2017, I’m still not making any resolutions. But I am going to push myself for more–more actions and more calm. What I really know is that it won’t be a simply sequential path, the actions and the calm will ebb and flow like the tide, and there will be days when I want to run and splash through the waves and days when I want to stand very still and let the edge of the ocean barely kiss my toes before it pulls back and away.

And I’ll go with that. While I’m probably never going to hang ten at the Mavericks surfing competition, 2017 is definitely going to see me out there with my little paddle board, kicking away and getting things done.

My Word for 2017: Bravery

Each year for the past few years, maybe on and off a bit, I’ve picked a word for myself. That word was usually focused on my writing, because, well, I’ve been pretty darned lucky, and I have room and ease in my life so I could focus on my writing. 

This year feels a little different. Okay, it feels a lot different. On the one hand, I still have a life of room and ease, and I feel relatively safe from the things I fear are coming down the road. On the other hand, I know I may NOT be safe–I’m a woman and I’m Jewish and I’m a liberal…all groups who are already coming under attack and who will almost certainly continue to be attacked.

Still, the odds are decent that, if I chose to, I could tuck myself into my sheltered little life, duck my head, and come out relatively unscathed. 

But I don’t want to. I want to stay out of my shell, keep my head out of the sand, and fight.

This will take, I’ve been thinking, courage. Which is the word I’ve been leaning toward for 2017. And which, ironically, I’ve been leaning away from, too…out of fear.

And then, today, I picked up my copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, thinking I’d start a reread to get inspired for the next year of writing. And almost immediately I came across a description of what a poet named Jack Gilbert (no relation) told some of his writing students. 

“Most of all, though, he asked his students to be brave. Without bravery, he instructed, they would never be able to realize the vaulting scope of their capacities. Without bravery, they would never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, their lives would remain small–far smaller than they probably wanted their lives to be.”

I was not a brave child, teen, or young adult. Cravings for adventure? I had none. Impulse control? Enough for a dozen kids. Fear of what MIGHT go wrong? Drove most of my decisions (usually to NOT try something). Growing up and growing older has been, in many ways, a process of growing braver. 

In the past few years, I’ve thought that maybe I had got “there,” that I was a good level of brave, that I didn’t have to keep stretching myself. And then November 8 happened and now January 20th is right around the corner, and I find myself thinking about bravery and wondering–yet again–if I’m brave enough. And, honestly, dreading having to get back into that stretching place.

But in one paragraph, Jack Gilbert and Elizabeth Gilbert reminded me that bravery and growth isn’t only about the struggle, but also about the growth of capacities and richnesses we maybe just can’t see yet. They reminded me of all the rewards I’ve claimed whenever I did step out of my safe spot and taken a risk (which so many other people wouldn’t even see as a risk). They made me sit up and look around at the bigger, happier life I have, because–sometimes in very small steps and occasionally in leaps–I was being brave.

So, it may be just semantics, but I’m setting aside “courage” for 2017 and choosing “bravery” instead. The bravery to get my introvert self out there, with people and crowds and noise, and find some way I can volunteer and make a difference. The bravery to make a time commitment and stick to it, when maybe (probably!), I just want to go home, hold my cat, and read my book. The bravery to attach my name and identity to my beliefs, in public and in person.

And, on the other side, the bravery to take care of myself and choose to tuck myself away when I need it, trusting that almost 3 million people voted for Hilary Clinton and Tim Kaine and against Donald Trump and Mike Pence, and that some of them will keep the shields up if I’m not there that day or week. The bravery to actively look for and at the good things people are doing for each other every day and to soak in that goodness, not discount it as not enough. The bravery to find balance between valid worrying and overall happiness. And, finally, yes, the bravery to carve out time for my writing–unselfishly because words and stories are important, and selfishly, because the writing nourishes and sustains me.

Bravery. 

Have you got a word for 2017?

How to Keep On Keepin’ On

I’ve been thinking about motivation lately. About how, even when we want to be writing, when we have a project we love, when we want to see that chapter or that draft or that book get done, we still might not be writing as much as we can.

Where does the motivation come from, I was thinking. And where, when it’s not there,  did it go?

And then today, at my day job, I was reading a study report about the maker movement and its place in education. (If that’s of interest to you, or you want more context for the small part I’m about to quote, the report is from Agency by Design at Project Zero, a research organization at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and you can find it here.)

Anyway, I’m reading along, and I get to this:

“…to be called a cyclist, you not only need to have the ability to ride a bicycle, but you have to be motivated to ride your bike on a regular basis, and you have to be alert to occasions to do so.” (Bold font, mine.)

Huh.

And a bit more:

“…the biggest bottleneck to behavior isn’t a lack of motivation and skill, it’s a lack of sensitivity.” 

Double-huh.

The article goes on to bring the metaphor back to students, and I went on to read more about them. But in that one instant, you just know that I completely replaced cyclist with writer. Oh, come on. So did you.

Maybe I haven’t been thinking about motivation. Maybe I have plenty of motivation. Maybe what I’ve been missing, especially, since–oh, I don’t know, early November?–is the awareness of opportunities to do the writing. Maybe I’ve even been helping to pull the cloud cover of fear and anger and worry over my awareness and blur the edges of whatever awareness I was managing.

You think?

It pretty much always comes back to mindfulness, doesn’t it?

I’ve done better this month than last, in terms of separating politics from life and compartmentalizing a little bit more. Not as well as I’d like, but better. And it’s something I think I’ll have to keep working on, because what’s going on in politics (and life) is important and–guess what–what’s going on in my (our) writing is important. And having a knock-down, drag-out fight between them in my brain is only going to make me tired.

And tired brains miss opportunities for writing. Or drawing. Or composing. Or any creative art.

I can do battle with a tired brain. But I can’t write with one–not fully or deeply like I need to be doing. Like any readers I might someday have need me to be doing.

Like your readers need you to be doing.

So back to the now, whenever we can. Back to the safe, quiet place where the monkey brain is tucked into a soft blanket and told, gently, to hush for a while. Just for a while, while we go bring ourselves to awareness, to seeing and seizing the opportunities.

Right? Right.

I Bought an Extra Present, so…GIVEAWAY!

Well, apparently I had a brain blip while I was preparing my holiday shopping list. NO book is really a wrong book, and absolutely no book by Kate Milford is in ANY way a wrong book. But I didn’t buy the book I MEANT to buy for a certain someone on my list. And that’s all I’m going to say about that here, because, shh…sekrits!

Anyway, the extra book I now have in my possession is Kate Milford’s GREENGLASS HOUSE, which is made of awesome.

So much awesome that even though I already have a copy in e-book form, I was tempted to keep the lovely print version for myself.

But that is 1) silly and 2) not in the holiday spirit. What IS in the holiday spirit is to pass it along and either introduce someone new to the awesome or fill in a painful gap for someone who has all the rest of Kate’s books, but not this one. Or…oh, any of the many other possible reasons.

Giveaway time!

Leave a comment and tell me one book YOU are giving as a holiday gift. Or if you’re worried about someone seeing the comment, just write “sekrit” with your preferred spelling. You’ve got all week, and I’ll draw the winner the weekend of the 17th.

Good luck!

Jason Reynolds’ GHOST

I’m blogging today over at MG Lunch Break, talking about the amazing voice with which Jason Reynolds drew me into his new novel, GHOST, and kept me there, in love with his hero and his story.

http://www.mglunchbreak.com/2016/12/06/jason-reynolds-ghost-the-sentences-behind-the-voice/