My Crazy, Bookish Adventure Weekend

Some people are going to read this post and be like, “Book stuff isn’t an adventure.” If you’re one of those people, this post might not be for you.

For those of you who are like, “Books? Tell me more!” read on.

Always Raining Here

My bookish weekend started on Friday when I finally got my copies of Always Raining Here.

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It’s a webcomic that ran from 2012- 2016, a story about two teenage boys’ quest for love. (Okay, it didn’t start out as a quest for love… but they’re teenage boys!) I’ve been waiting for these books for awhile, so it was a nice surprise to finally get them.

The Texas Teen Book Festival

Saturday was the Texas Teen Book Festival with a few authors I’d heard of, and many more who were new to me. The authors sat on panels such as “You + Me = Fate” and talked about themes in their books, writing process, the importance of diversity in books, and other interesting topics.

Though I could have bought these books cheaper elsewhere, I bought a bunch at the festival for a few reasons.

  1. It’s important to support other authors. One day I hope to make a living from people buying my books.
  2. They’re signed! Signed books are always better!
  3. If I don’t buy them immediately, I put them on a list and forget that I really wanted to read them.

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(I’ve already read When Dimple Met Rishi, and it was lovely.)

The Library Sale!

I love the sale at my local library. Not only are books cheap, but I love used books. Part of it is that I just love owning things that other people owned, that have wear marks and maybe writing in them. The other part of it is that I’m conscious about waste, so when I can buy used, I feel good about my purchasing decisions.

I went for the YA/ children’s books first, and was immediately perplexed. Instead of stacking the books so the titles could be read, they looked like this:

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My apologies for the blurry picture. Please don’t tell my husband… he’d be appalled.

Why would you stack books so that you can’t see the spine?? It’s incomprehensible to me, and reminds me of that weird backwards bookshelf trend (which will be the subject of Friday’s blog… stay tuned).

From there, I moved into the main room with all the other books. I was briefly distracted by a copy of The Annotated Alice, an annotated version of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland from 1960. I actually own the exact book that was being sold, but I don’t have much willpower when it comes to Alice in Wonderland. I want to own multiple copies of every version of this book ever made.

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Yeah, I don’t understand it either. Moving on.

I acquired some great finds, including an old Stephen King anthology with “Rage,” a rare short story that King himself asked to be pulled off the shelves.

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The leather-bound book is a copy of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore. Now, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have bought this book, except that someone had put it with the religion books. I know volunteers run library sales, and someone just put it there because it looked like it belonged, but it made me laugh, so I had to buy it.

I bought Girl On A Train because it sounded better than The Girl On the Train, which I disliked, though everyone else seemed to think it was great.

There was also a book I spotted called, “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.” This raised so many questions for me. Is there also a “Manly Art of Breastfeeding”? Is the implication that someone isn’t womanly if they don’t breastfeed? What if I don’t have children? Should I breastfeed other people’s children in order to be more womanly?

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I didn’t buy that one though. I figured someone else needed tips on being womanly more than I did.

Did you have any bookish adventures this weekend?

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How To Read Childhood Favorites the “Right” Way

IMG_9546I love rereading books that I used to love. Nostalgia books, I suppose you could call them.

It used to never be a problem for me, but as I’ve gotten more serious about writing, and as I’m critiquing other writer’s works on a weekly basis, it’s gotten more difficult not to read things with a critical eye.

Two years ago, I made the mistake of gifting my all time favorite book to my critique partner. As I reread it after I gifted it, I started seeing areas I knew he would criticize. And he did criticize those areas, and many more I hadn’t anticipated.

Suddenly, I didn’t love the book as much as I used to. It wasn’t the perfect example of a novel that I’d thought it was. I was disappointed, and for a long time, didn’t want to read any of my old favorites, worried that I wouldn’t love them as much as I used to.

Recently, I got the urge to reread The Forbidden Game trilogy, by LJ Smith. Without overthinking it, I started the first one.

I ended up reading it in two minds. My critical reader found all the flaws. (And there are flaws.) But my nostalgic reader found all the reasons I’d always loved it. And my nostalgic reader was louder.

It’s easy to find the flaws in something, to pick it apart, to criticize. That’s why anyone can do it.

And as a writer, it’s important that I can be constructively critical to my work and to the work of other writers who want to improve. Sometimes, as a reader, it’s important to do too. It’s good practice, and helps judge what works and what doesn’t.

But there are sometimes when I don’t want to pick things apart or find ways to improve something. Sometimes I just want to enjoy it, recapture that uncomplicated pleasure that came with reading it in the past.

The meaning of a particular book and how it resonates with the reader can change over time. There have been books I’ve connected with more or less over time, depending on where I was in my life.

But I don’t ever want to get to the point where I look at a beloved book, and only see the flaws. That serves no purpose. And I certainly don’t want to avoid rereading a favorite book out of fear.

All books have magic, and magic is a personal thing. But the key is that we, as readers, have to be complicit in creating that magic. It doesn’t exist without a reader who’s willing to be immersed in the book.

A book that resonates with me, at any point in my life, doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s an unrealistic standard. If it made me feel something deeply at any point, then it was “perfect” for me at that moment.

So, from now on, when I’m rereading a book, I’m going to keep in mind that it’s okay for it to have flaws, and those flaws don’t diminish its value one bit.

After all, at one point, I didn’t even see the flaws. They were always there, but I was so immersed in magic that I missed them. And I’m not going to let anyone take that away from me… not even myself.

5 Things Friday

It’s been a busy month for me, and while I have a lot of great ideas for posts, I don’t have the energy to do them justice right now. So, instead of skipping today, I thought I’d do a fast and fun five things Friday. (It’s apparently a thing.)

One

What I’m Reading

Because I tend to reach for things I’ve already read when life gets stressful, I just finished rereading The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

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Two

What I’m Writing

I’m just about to start seriously editing the last novel I wrote, Not Dead Enough, a YA thriller about a teenager whose boyfriend died in a car accident. But when she starts getting messages from someone claiming to be him, she has to question if she’s being stalked, or if he’s somehow communicating with her.

I’m also writing a novel tentatively called The Cycle about a woman whose children get taken into foster care. She grew up in foster care and group homes. The story is told with dual timelines of her at 13 and 22. Actually, that’s probably what made me think about The Language of Flowers.

Three

What I Read This Week

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, which I rated 4 stars on Goodreads

Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin, which I rated 4 stars on Goodreads

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, which I rated 4 stars on Goodreads

Four

When I Wasn’t Reading

I was writing, chauffeuring my two sick cats to the veterinarian, finishing some touch up work on the bathroom I painted awhile back, and walking the dog.

Five

Favorite Picture of the Week

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This greedy squirrel is pretty much constantly eating. One of my cats loves watching him, and we call her a “TV addict.”

What have you been doing this week?

 

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The Pros and Cons of Writing in Coffee Shops

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Epoch Coffee, Austin TX

For the past four weeks, I’ve been taking my cat for daily medical treatments. The vet’s office was about 20 minutes (or so) away from home, so instead of running back and forth, I parked myself in a local coffee shop and worked there.

I’ve always had this romantic notion of working in coffee shops. JK Rowling talks about her time writing Harry Potter in coffee shops, and it’s always seemed like the perfect place to get work done.

There’s coffee, and fewer distractions, and usually plugs for my laptop. What more could I ask for?

Well…

The Good

  1. It’s an uninterrupted period when I can get work done. I have difficulty setting aside time to write. Because I enjoy it, it feels like it should be low on my priority list. I’m working on that, but it’s still a thing.
  2. * Fewer distractions of a certain type. There’s no laundry to be done or dishwasher to unload. There are no dogs begging for attention, or cats laying across the keyboard.
  3. Great atmosphere. I love the way coffee shops smell. In independent coffee shops, I love the artwork, and the interesting decor. I enjoy the torn up couches, and watching the variety of people who patronize them.
  4. *Essentially no wi-fi. The coffee shop I most frequented had unsecured wi-fi (which I’m always wary of), and it was slow. So slow, I didn’t use it. Which was good because I wasn’t getting sucked down the rabbit hole of Facebook, etc.

The Bad

  1. More distractions. But wait… you just said there were fewer. Yeah, fewer homestyle distractions. But there’s music I don’t always like playing over the speakers. One day, there was a guy tapping his flip flop shod foot on the floor. It made a slapping sound, and I wasn’t the only one who was thinking about stabbing him.
  2. My favorite seat was sometimes taken. I spent the most time in a coffee shop that had armchairs and couches, as well as wooden chairs. Finding seats where my feet touch the floor is difficult. This place had one particular chair that seemed sized perfectly for me. I could put my back against the back and still have my feet touch the floor. But I wasn’t the only one who liked it.
  3. Gathering up all my stuff when I went to the bathroom or leaving it to fate. I’m not a very trusting soul (at least not with my laptop). Maybe it’s because, as a therapist, I worked with lots of people who stole. I’d see other people leave their laptops and be amazed at their ability to trust. I did it once or twice, but it was too uncomfortable. After all, I only have to be wrong once. Of all the things I own, my laptop is my most beloved.
  4. If I want to listen to music I like, I have to wear headphones. I’m moody when it comes to liking music when I work or not. But no matter what, I’m not a fan of headphones. The earbud type hurt my ears, and the over ear ones can be cumbersome to travel with.
  5. It’s too noisy. Sometimes I just like silence. I took to wearing headphones with nothing playing, just to block out some of the noise. Most days, I left with a headache.
  6. Lots of temptation. I try not to eat a lot of baked goods, but scones are a special love of mine. Coffee shops always have tasty looking scones, muffins, croissants, etc.
  7. It was freezing! In the winter, I laugh sadistically at my husband when he begs to turn the heat up and just tell him to put on more clothes. This place was so cold that when I walked outside into the 109 degree afternoon, it actually felt good.
  8. *Essentially no wi-fi. If I wanted to look something up, it was slow to do so. I didn’t blog while I was there because I couldn’t get online. (And yes, I could have written them offline and then posted them later. But I didn’t.)

The Verdict

It’s not my thing. Even the positive of having a certain time set aside to write doesn’t outweigh all the reasons I didn’t like it, in my opinion. I’ve read articles by people who love working in coffee shops so they can be surrounded by people but not have to interact with them, but I’d argue that I was interacting with them, far more than I wanted to. I was listening to the buzz of their conversations, their flip flops slapping, fighting with them for the good chair, not leaving my stuff so it didn’t get stolen.

That being said, I’m an extreme introvert who’s happiest when I don’t have to leave my house for several days in a row. I like quiet, and I see no problem with eating meals alone or not talking to other people for extended periods of time.

What’s your opinion on reading or writing in coffee shops?

Why I Don’t Care for Character Descriptions

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Chihuly Glass, Photo Credit RJS Photos

It’s 2017, and inclusion is in.

To be clear, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.  By all means, movies, TV, and books should include a more diverse cast, one that looks more like real life.

But books… should authors include diverse characters? To me, that’s an interesting question with no one right answer.

The way I’ve resolved it is to only describe those parts of characters where physical description is important. For instance, in my manuscript, Acheron Crossing (which I’m trying to get an agent for!), I describe the main character only as fat. It’s important, because she’s bullied for being fat. But does her race or height or hair color matter?

Not at all.

In my mind, the problem is that when you start identifying some characters as white, and then don’t identify the race of other characters, in most cases, they’re assumed to be white. JK Rowling got a lot of crap for not having a diverse enough cast of characters, and she said that they were there, but she wasn’t going to describe them all. Lots of people don’t buy that though.

Another article I read by a young black woman talked about how, when a black woman was cast as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, she didn’t see what the big deal was. She had always seen Hermione as black before Emma Watson was cast. She said that because of all the prejudice Hermione faced, and her only descriptors were “bushy brown hair” and “big teeth,” it seemed perfect to her. There are a million articles out there that describe this better than I do. Here’s one.

That article blew me away, and completely changed my thinking. It made me realize that if I don’t describe my characters, maybe the reader can better identify with them. The character can be anything the reader wants them to be.

In my mind, a book is a magical doorway, and the reader gets to be part of that magic. If a reader identifies with a character, that’s the best kind of magic.

In a personal example, I think Nicola Yoon is one of the best authors out there right now. In The Sun Is Also A Star, Natasha is Jamaican American, and Daniel is Korean American, and it was important to the narrative. Culture was all over the book. I had previously read Everything, Everything, and when I was looking up more about The Sun Is Also A Star, I read a reference that the main character, Maddy, in Everything, Everything was partly African-American.

I didn’t remember that.

In fact, I didn’t remember anything about what she looked like.

It didn’t matter to me what race Maddy was, nor did it matter to me what her love interest looked like. If it was relevant to the book, I don’t remember that either.

I remember that it was an amazing plot and a beautiful love story. I remember that it had a breathtaking finale, that I was reading it in Vegas. I was laying by the pool with a friend, and she kept trying to talk to me.

And I wasn’t interested.

Because I had to finish this wonderful book.

Now, I don’t mean to say that the main character in Everything, Everything shouldn’t have been African-American. Honestly, there are tons of books with blonde haired, blue eyed main characters. If I want a MC who looks like me, I have a bookshelf full.

But from what I understand, POC don’t find nearly enough books where people look like they do. So it doesn’t matter if I read past the part where Maddie was African-American. For someone who doesn’t have enough book characters who look like her, that could have been an important connection.

I remember the first time I read a book where the main character was fat (Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner). I was in my 20s, and Cannie looked like me. She was a real person, not a fat person caricature who just ate cakes and candy all day and watched TV. She was a writer and had boyfriends and did all the things that normal people do. But she was fat, and it was okay.

Not every book needs a main character who looks a specific way. But in my opinion, if there’s going to be a description in the book, it should serve a purpose. Not just be there because the author is a blue-eyed blonde.

What do you think?

 

Collecting Rejections

Stack of books

Some famous “rejects.”

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a post about dealing with criticism. Which is hard enough, but in some ways, dealing with rejection is worse.

I “collect” rejection stories. Carrie, by Stephen King, was rejected 30 times. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by JK Rowling, was rejected 12 times. Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, was rejected 38 times. And on and on and on.

I pull these stories out whenever I need to remind myself that a rejection doesn’t mean the story is bad; it just means that it didn’t find its match. It’s kind of like dating that way. I’ve abandoned many books that other people loved, and loved books other people hate. Unless a book is actually poorly written, whether or not it’s “good” is more about the taste of the reader than the actual story. And even then, I like some “poorly written” stories.

Recently, I had a tough rejection. I have a goal to get a story into a particular online magazine. I read it, I follow it, and I know what type of stories they take. My story is better than some of the stories I read there. Not better than all of them, but better than some. (This is, of course, my extremely biased opinion.)

Usually, this magazine rejects within 30 days, so when a month came and went, my excitement built. And built. I tried to tell myself that it didn’t mean they’d accept my story, but of course, I didn’t listen.

When they had the story 75 days, I got a form rejection back with the usual, “Thank you but this wasn’t a good fit for us.” My heart plummeted. But on the bottom was a “PS,” the email equivalent of a handwritten note. It said: “PS We enjoyed this story, but it didn’t make our final cut.”

(insert screaming face)

Truthfully though, I really appreciated that feedback, because it told me what I believed; it was a good story. Just not quite good enough? Too similar to another story that’s being published soon? Drew the short straw? I don’t know. But since a publication I respect liked it (even if they didn’t publish it), someone else probably will too.

I recently read a story about how someone, inspired by Stephen King’s tale of collecting rejection slips on a nail on his wall, has made it a goal to get 100 rejections this year. Because, with rejections, come acceptances. I think that’s a pretty great attitude.

So, instead of being upset by this latest rejection, I’m just going to add it to my collection, and see how many I can get this year. Last year I got 15 rejections and 1 acceptance on short stories. This year, so far, I’m at 14 rejections and 1 acceptance. Considering we’re only at halfway through the year, I’ve done 100% better than last year.

Now I just need to keep up the good work.

Related posts: Being Perfect, Accepting Criticism, and Generally Getting Over Myself

When Writing Isn’t Going Well

IMG_9029I have this great novel idea. I’ve been nurturing and taking notes on it for months. I know my characters, I know where the story is going and how it gets there.

I sat down at my computer to start this novel recently. And suddenly, it’s like my brain is coated in molasses.

This will be my third (hopefully good) book. I wrote my first (bad) novel in high school. If I’m counting all the way back that far, when it’s complete, this will be book number seven (I think). So I’m no stranger to sitting down and writing 70,000 words or so.

But for some reason, this one is just fighting me, and it’s making me wonder: should I be writing something else right now?

For weeks, I’ve been sitting at my computer, forcing myself to write 500 words or so, and then when I felt battle-weary, I’d get up and do something else, hoping that physical activity, organizing, cleaning, would jar the words out of my brain.

It hasn’t worked though. Oh, I feel ready to sit down and write, but the minute I do, it all dries up again, and the molasses is back. I thought about taking a break from this new book, maybe starting something else. But abandoning a book is the reason I have approximately 1,356,791* unfinished novels on my computer.

So, with my last two books, I forced myself to finish, and I think they turned out pretty good. With this one, I’ve decided to abandon the beginning. I almost always rewrite my beginnings anyway. (Why are beginnings so hard?) I’ve skipped ahead to the first plot point, and am writing from there. It seems to be working at least somewhat better.

Sometimes writing is so much fun! Sometimes it’s easy! And the ideas flow! And the characters speak to me and we have tea parties and share secrets!

And sometimes writing feels like walking forward into a hailstorm when the wind blows you backward and turns your umbrella inside out. Sometimes the characters have locked me out and hung up a sign, “Fictional People Only.”

But I still love it.

Does that mean there’s something wrong with me?

Fellow writers, what do you do when the writing is not going according to plan?

*This number is slightly exaggerated.