5 Things Friday- November

One

What I’m Reading

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, by Sue Klebold. This book is written by the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters at Columbine. It’s not just a memoir; it also integrates information on mental health and the thought process of kids who commit this kind of violence. She tries to make sense of the tragedy and talks about the subtle signs of Dylan’s mental state that she missed.

One of the things that really struck me about this book is that while she never tries to minimize the tragedy other families experienced that day, she reframes Dylan’s death as a suicide. Sue Klebold is an advocate for suicide awareness, treatment, and prevention. This is a fantastic book that anyone with children (or who knows people with children) should read. All proceeds from the book go to mental health research and charitable organizations.

Two

What I’m Writing

I’m starting work on my next book, a YA horror about a world where Death has been kidnapped.

Three

What I Read This Week

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. It took me a long time to get through it because it wasn’t what I thought it would be. Honestly, it was a decent book, but not great. There were parts of it I really liked, but overall, it sounded better than it was.

I also read Almost Interesting, by David Spade, on audiobook. That was a fast read and a lot of fun.

Four

When I Wasn’t Reading

I binge watched Stranger Things at night (so good!). During the day, I know I was busy, but I honestly don’t remember what I was doing. Writing? Cleaning? I know I mowed the lawn, but that’s about all.

Five

Favorite Picture of the Week

Did you read or watch anything particularly good this week?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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10 Reasons Why Stranger Things is Fantastic Entertainment

UnknownAs I pretty much always am, I was late to the cultural phenomenon that is Stranger Things. I’m sure I was aware of it because it’s on Netflix, but there are so many awful shows out there that I don’t always pay attention.

I assumed it was based on a Stephen King novel. I think I got Stranger Things confused with Needful Things, and then the font of the title (which matches early Stephen King novel font) clinched it in my brain. (For those of you who don’t know, the show pays homage to Stephen King and much other 80s pop culture but isn’t actually based on any single thing King wrote.)

What caught my attention was when a friend, who hates horror, started posting how much she loves this show. This friend is such a scaredy cat that when I took her to a mild haunted house, she was so terrified that she dug her fingers into my arm and left bruises.

I made a casual comment to my husband that we should watch the first episode. We had no idea that we wouldn’t be able to stop until we were done.

If you’re reading this without having watched Stranger Things, I’ll keep the spoilers mild. I will make references to Season 2 characters and situations.

So, what’s so great about it?

  1. There are few one-dimensional characters. The main characters aren’t perfect. They have flaws and problems, but at the end of the day, they’re interesting. I wanted them to win, and my heart started racing when they were in danger. The one-dimensional characters we see are not onscreen long enough to develop them. Even Billy (who was pretty close to being a one-dimensional bully) got some screen time showing slightly more depth.
  2. The groups of kids (and adults) mostly work together. The four main characters, Mike, Will, Lucas, and Dusty, work as a team to solve problems. They argue sometimes, but ultimately they manage their disagreements. Nancy and Jonathan don’t always get along, but they put aside their differences to try to kill the big bad guy. I hate when, in movies or TV, the main characters are so busy arguing that they forget to focus on the real enemy. That doesn’t happen on this show.
  3.  The female characters are strong. Every main character on this show, male and female, have agency. At times, everyone thinks Joyce is crazy, but all she cares about is communicating with her son. She vigorously defends herself and doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks. Nancy is concerned about buying a new blouse and getting the popular guy to like her, but when she starts to realize bad stuff is going down in her town, she doesn’t hesitate to grab a gun and go hunting. She’s scared afterward and asks a friend to stay in her room with her, but it doesn’t stop her from fighting. El wants to look pretty so Mike likes her, but is the definition of badass. I read a criticism of the show that Maxine (Max) is only there so that Lucas and Dusty argue over her, trying to win her affections. The thing is that kids develop crushes in real life, so I felt that it was realistic. Max didn’t hesitate to get involved when they needed to help Will.
  4. The male characters are strong without being chauvinists. At one point, Max asks Lucas if the boys won’t include her “because I’m a girl?” Lucas looks genuinely confused before exclaiming, “No!” The boys and girls all protect one another. Hopper is probably the male character who most often insists that he take the lead into danger. But it makes sense, because he’s the sheriff, and he protects everyone. Plus, his character makes it clear that he’s protective not because he thinks others are inadequate, but because he doesn’t want to lose anyone else.
  5. The characters’ relationships are sometimes messy. Friends don’t get along all the time in real life. At one point, Lucas and Mike even get into a physical fight, as boys that age sometimes do. Barbara and Nancy argue over how Nancy is acting to get Steve to like her, but Barbara supports her anyway.
  6. The 80s references. I see all kinds of articles talking about how my generation is nostalgic and loves 80s pop culture, and while I think that’s true, I think that everyone loves entertainment set in the 80s. It was such a colorful, interesting time. There are so many iconic things that signal the 80s that it’s hard not to love that decade.
  7. The references to other horror movies/ books. People talk about how this show is “derivative,” as if that’s a negative. For my husband (who’s a huge movie buff), half the fun was saying, “That’s from Aliens!” or “That’s a reference to The Thing!”
  8. It’s more about the characters than about the scary. When I asked a different friend why she liked the show, considering that it’s horror, she said that it wasn’t scary all the time. Mostly, it’s about a group of friends trying to find their missing friend. She said she just covers her eyes during the scary parts and makes sure her boyfriend watches it with her. I agree with her; the story has fantastic character development and I loved all the characters’ storylines.
  9. The acting is fantastic. I am in awe of how talented these kids are. Millie Bobby Brown as El has only 42 lines in Season 1, so most of her acting is using body language and facial expressions. She does a fantastic job and is a nuanced character even without dialog. Will also has a lot of subtle things going on with him, and he does an amazing job of conveying it. The adult actors are great too. Winona Ryder does crazy without being over the top about it, and David Harbour plays the tortured sheriff in a way that made me want to slap him and give him a hug. I loved the addition of Sean Astin and Paul Reiser in Season 2.
  10. The music! I almost never go out of my way to find TV show soundtracks, but when they include songs like “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by the Clash and “Heroes” by Peter Gabriel, I’m all in. Even the second season soundtrack, which is mostly instrumental, is great.

So, there you have it, all the reasons I loved Stranger Things and have spent the last four days binge watching it. Have you seen it yet? Did you love it or hate it?

6 Reasons NaNoWriMo Doesn’t Work For Me (But Why It’s Still Great)

IMG_9029For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is the idea that, every November, writers can sit down and get 50,000 words on paper, writing a novel in a month. That’s 1,667 words per day. You upload it to the NaNoWriMo site, and if you get those 50,000 words, you win!

The idea is to spark creativity and overcome self-doubt. Some people would like to write a novel, but can’t get the words on the page. Having a set goal like that is supposed to encourage people to silence their inner critic and just go for it.

I love the idea, and I participated (and failed) for about four or five years. It took me a long time to figure out why it didn’t work for me, but I get it now.

Here’s why:

  1. I consistently “fail” at daily tasks. I don’t know why this is, but it is. On Facebook, I was nominated for that 7 days/ 7 black and white pictures challenge. I missed day 5. I got back to it and posted my day 5 the next day, but I always do it. In years I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, I’m usually full steam ahead for about the first week, and then I start missing days. It’s just not my work style, I guess.
  2. I need to work from an outline. In the past, I’ve been a “pantser,” meaning I just write by the seat of my pants. It never worked for me. I struggled to finish; I did multiple drafts; my point was lost or I forgot to tie up threads. Then a friend recommended Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks. This book makes so much sense to me. It’s not an outline, per se, but rather a set of story points one must work toward.
  3. 50,000 words isn’t actually a novel, so I’d have to add a lot more to it to make it one. I write YA, which is the shortest novel you can get, outside of middle grade. Word count for YA ranges from 55,000 to 79,999 words, according to Writer’s Digest. I always have to put more words in, and don’t want to start at a deficit. My style tends to be pretty stripped down anyway. “Plot-focused,” one of the writers in my group calls it.
  4. It stresses me out. There are days when I can put 5,000 words on paper. But I don’t write every day. And if I miss a day or two with NaNoWriMo, I’ve already “failed,” so what’s the point in continuing?
  5. I don’t care about praise or fake badges. Studies show that badges in fitness apps and praise for doing things increases the likelihood that someone will do a behavior, but that stuff doesn’t work on me. I think it’s great when it does provide encouragement for people, but it doesn’t work like that for me. (Neither does advertising or “hard sells.”) Knowing that, at the end of the month, I’ll get a “congrats!” for “winning” isn’t encouraging for me.
  6. November doesn’t work for me. I’ve actually thought about doing my own personal NaNoWriMo during April or May, any month that isn’t so crazy. But something about November, which is stuck between Halloween and Christmas just makes it crazier to me. In November, I want to take down Halloween decorations and put up Christmas ones. I want to bake cookies and travel to see family. I do write in November, but not at the crazy, flat out pace that NaNoWriMo requires.

I know I sound like a Negative Nancy, but I actually think NaNoWriMo can be wonderful for people who are struggling with writing that first novel. For anyone who wants to write but suffers from self-doubt, those first steps can be the most important ones. For people who do respond to routine or praise, it can be a great encouragement. Plus, the NaNoWriMo community is welcoming. They have events all over the country where people can go and write together.

If you’re on the fence about whether to try NaNoWriMo, at least check it out. They have progress trackers, pep talks, support, community, etc.

For me, I just like the idea more than the reality.

Have you ever done or considered doing NaNoWriMo? What do you think about it?

 

My Life of Crime as a Book Pirate

When I was a kid back in rural Pennsylvania, I went to a lot of flea markets. At one of the larger ones, there was a book seller who sold paperbacks with the covers ripped off.

Because I read everything, I read the part that said that if the cover was ripped off, the books had supposedly been destroyed and that they were stolen.

But as a kid who didn’t have a job and loved reading more than anything, it didn’t seem like a big deal. I figured if it were really illegal, the cops would have shut it down. It was a big stand with tons of books, in business for all the years of my childhood, so I figured it was somehow okay.

I recently found some of those books in the boxes I’ve transported to Texas. I know now that those stolen books really are a big deal, and that the author and publishing company didn’t receive their fair share. So, I recycled all the ones I didn’t care about, and have put the ones I do on a pile to re-purchase.

I might buy them from Goodwill or Half-Price books or some other secondhand shop, but at least doing that, I know that the author got their royalties at one point or another.

Don’t get me wrong, I do buy new books and frequent my local library. I do my best to support other authors. I’m hoping to be published one day myself, and I’m a big believer in the golden rule.

I do have a confession to one single incident of book piracy as an adult. When I lay out the case for you, let me know if you would have done the same thing.

The date is July 19, 2007. In two days, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows will be released.

I’ve bought every book at midnight since Prisoner of Azkaban. My husband comes home from work that fateful Wednesday night, and says to me, “I have something to tell you, but I’m not sure if I should.”

Turns out, he somehow found a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows online. Someone had gotten ahold of the book and taken a photograph of every. single. page.

As the evening wears on, I go back and forth, my conscience fighting with the rare opportunity I’ve been handed: the ability to know if Harry lived or died two days early! (Also to find out if Snape was a good guy or bad guy. I was Team Snape from the moment he killed Dumbledore. I just knew!)

Finally, I say, “Give it to me!” And he does.

I read that book all night, and finish at 6 a.m. the next morning, my eyes bleary and my head aching. I drink some coffee, take a shower, and go to work. The knowledge that Harry lived keeps me awake, and I brag that I know the truth. I refuse to give anyone any spoilers; that wouldn’t be fair. I say if they still want to know, I’ll tell them Monday, after everyone else had gotten a copy of the book (and the info would probably be available on the internet anyway).

I did; I read my pirated copy of the book. But I don’t really feel that bad about it.

At midnight on July 21, 2007, I stood in line like everyone else, and got my legit copy. Then I went on to buy it in paperback as well.

I don’t know whatever happened to the copy I’d gotten illicitly. Knowing me, I probably deleted it as soon as I had the “real” version in my hand. Which, I might add, I read again that weekend.

Everyone has the temptation that turns them criminal. Now you know mine.

Have you ever pirated a book? What would have you done in my situation with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows?

What got me thinking about this was a very interesting article by Maggie Stievfater about how piracy does actually make a difference to authors. I encourage you to read it. It’s not just about loss of sales, but the possibility that a series could be cancelled due to lack of interest. If that had happened with the Raven Boys, I would have cried.

Born to Run, But Not To Drive

Image-1-1A few times a year, I drive from Austin to Phoenix, 28 total hours of boredom. I-10 makes up about three quarters of the trip. For those of you who’ve never driven that stretch, it is one of the most boring  roadways I’ve ever been on. It’s mostly flat and straight with unchanging views. I suppose it’s a well-designed highway, but it makes my brain go into sleep-mode.

A couple years ago, a friend started talking about the audiobooks she was reading, and I decided to try them again. They’re a life-saver! Audiobooks make that driving time as palatable as it can be.

I’ve had good luck with audiobooks on this stretch of road in the past. I do have to occasionally shut them off when the road gets too grooved or there’s too much crosswind to hear well, but it’s usually only a minor inconvenience.

On my most recent trip, I was listening to Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen. I’ve never been a fan of his music, particularly. I mean, I am an American and I grew up in the 80’s & 90’s, so I like “Born in the USA,” “Born to Run,” and “Dancing in the Dark.”

But his story is interesting to me. I love stories about people who’ve worked hard to make it in their chosen profession. Plus, there’s no denying that the man has a way with words and can make the most ordinary things sound like poetry.

I never really listened closely to Springsteen’s voice before. It’s unique: gravelly but soothing. While it makes for pleasant listening on headphones while I’m working around the house, it’s less well-matched for a car trip.

I couldn’t turn my car stereo loud enough to hear his voice consistently. And when I did, the bass in his voice made the speakers vibrate. This book was a good lesson on carefully choosing an audiobook, not only based on interest, but also based on narrator.

In my 28 hours on the road, I should have been able to finish this book, but it wasn’t meant to be. My audiobook loan will expire tomorrow, and though I’m pretty sure I could renew it, I’m not going to. I’d rather get the physical book and finish it that way instead.

As an aside, it was kind of funny to be driving and listen to him talk about driving from New Jersey to California in 72 hours. Though I’ve never done that exact trip, I felt his pain while I was feeling my own.

Have you ever had an audiobook narrator you enjoyed, but just didn’t work for you for some reason?

 

The Hate U Give- A Review

IMG_9837I didn’t really have any expectations about The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas going into it. I’d heard good things about it, but then I often hear good things about books I end up hating.

My Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) YA book club picked this book for October, so when I couldn’t get it from the library (I was #63 on both the audiobook and print edition), I decided to just buy it from Amazon.

I loved it. I freaking loved it.

It’s a hard book to read at times. Starr is 16, living in a poor neighborhood with other black kids, where crime is common. Her parents sent her to a predominantly white school so that she can have a better education. Because of this, Starr straddles two worlds. One where she talks slang and gives attitude, and one where she pronounces her words properly and doesn’t raise her voice so no one thinks she’s the “angry black girl.”

When Starr’s friend Khalil is shot and killed in front of her during a routine traffic stop, Starr has to figure out how to make her voice heard and navigate her anger with the police, and by extension, all white people who make assumptions about what happened.

Starr’s uncle is a cop, and her feelings about police officers become confused. On one hand, she’s afraid of what could happen to her or her other friends. On the other hand, she loves her uncle, who says that the cop who shot her friend is an “okay guy.”

This is a book that could have been preachy, but it wasn’t. Though Ms. Thomas clearly has a statement to make about police shootings of young black men, it’s presented as Starr trying to make sense of her feelings and understand both points of view.

I read a lot of articles by people expressing anger over police shootings, but I don’t think I fully understood their point of view. This book helped me get inside of it and see the despair, fear, and anger that people feel in reaction to these shootings.

No issue is black and white, and anytime I can more fully understand the shades of gray, I appreciate it.

If you haven’t read this book, definitely check it out.

Have you read it? What did you think?