Saturday, December 31, 2011

Writing Resolutions

Starting today, January 1, 2012, I resolve to post something each day. It might be as slight as a 140-character tweet, or as long as a school essay. The subject could be politics, relationships, or writing itself. If I miss a day, I'll make up for it with two the next. Without setting clear goals and boundaries for myself, I get a bit lost sometimes. In the next few days, I'll fill you in on my struggles (excitement?) whilst finishing my book; my four Christmases in two days; my changes at work and what that could mean for my writing. I'll also look back at the year that just finished.

But for now I'll just celebrate the new year. Later today the Bengals play for a spot in the playoffs, and I'm excited to watch it with my grandma and father, who just safely returned from Kenya.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus--whatever you celebrate, if anything--and was able to spend it with people you love.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Another Milestone

I just passed 72000. Eeee! I actually had to scrap about 2000 words--I'd written a scene, just to get it down on paper--in which the main character and another character sat in a Wendy's and have a conversation about what happened. Two hundred fifty pages of build up, and it all gets resolved in Wendy's. It felt good to write it, but it also felt good to erase it and write it again using feedback from my writer's group. Now it's creepier. More ambiguous.




Friday, December 9, 2011

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” — Confucius

I came across this list of inspiring quotes on reading by writers. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads.” — Sherman Alexie
  • “Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” — Joyce Carol Oates
  • “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” – Ernest Hemingway
  • “Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.” — Neil Gaiman
I just finished Tatiana de Rosnay's book, "Sarah's Key." My manager inadvertently spoiled the ending, but I suppose I would have seen it coming. The story alternates between two time periods, the first being Paris, July 1942, during the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup. Nazis had ordered the French police to round up Jews--men, women, and children--and then ship them to Auschwitz for extermination. It's a horrible piece of history, one that I was only vaguely familiar with. The book successfully illustrates and personalizes this horror as an eleven year old girl narrates her experience.

Most of the story is set in the 21st century, as a middle-aged woman researches the Vel' d'Hiv for a magazine. Julia is American but has lived in Paris her entire adult life, having married a French man. As she researches the roundup, Julia discovers that most Parisians don't know about the roundup or, at least, would rather forget that it happened.

My mom can't read stories or watch movies about the Holocaust, and I've met a few people in her generation that feel the same way. It's too painful. Too horrible. But I think it's important to keep that shameful history close not only to honor the victims and survivors but also to recognize the evil that humans are still capable of.

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Latest Obsession

"Breaking Bad," hands down the best drama I've seen in years. Bryan Cranston (the dad from "Malcolm in the Middle") plays a high school chemistry teacher living in the suburbs of Albuquerque with his wife and teenage son. Early in the first episode, Walter White is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Knowing he only has two years, at best, and realizing that his wife and son (and unborn child) will be left with nothing, he uses his chemistry skills to team up with a former drug-selling student to cook meth.

Unlike marijuana, meth is a drug that few people argue should be legalized. We know meth is horrible and addictive; the people who manufacture and distribute this drug should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Yet "Breaking Bad" is so well done that we root for drug dealers; we don't want Walt to get caught, and we want him and his partner Jesse to be successful.

After three seasons (the fourth isn't on Netflix yet), the characters continue to develop as Walter and Jesse become further embroiled in the violence that follows the drug trade.

* * *

Today's the anniversary of my accident. Like that day seventeen years ago, today is cold, gray, and rainy. I promise, no more jaywalking. On an unrelated note, I cracked 70,000 words today!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Merrily, Merrily, Merrily...

I know adverbs are supposed to be bad. I've advised against them countless times. Use verbs and nouns whenever possible: they're stronger can can carry the weight of a sentence better than mere adjectives and adverbs.

But sometimes the adverb is so much easier! If I write "What's going on?" she said sleepily, you know exactly how she said it! I don't necessarily have to describe the whole scene or her body language in order to express that simple point: she was tired.

I didn't mention that it snowed yesterday. It must have been the first snow of the season. It was a cold rain when I left work last night, but by the time I made it home it was a fluffy snow that coated the grass. I was sad to see it gone in the morning.

Odds and Ends

Insecurity can be quite the barrier. Lately I've felt like I don't have anything interesting or unique to offer on any subject. I feel insular.

It's November 30, the last day of NaNoWriMo, NaBloPoMo, and my own made-up NaNoFiMo. I'm 6000 words shy of my goal, but I offer the following excuses: working extra hours; celebrating Thanksgiving (so much turkey and football!); and feeling insecure about these final chapters.

Still, I'm ahead of schedule for my original goal of finishing in 2011. Even better, today's not over. Maybe I can knock out a thousand words.

By the way, my library has a contest each week. We write the first line of a book on a white board at the front desk, and if patrons identify the source material, we give them a cool bookmark. I've made a blog chronicling the ones we've done so far (I still have to publish fifteen or so): firstlinecontest.blogspot.com. Check it out and let me know if you have any suggestions!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Baby baby!

Three or four years back, a ton of my friends were getting married. In the past couple years, some of these friends have started having children. And just this year, two of my oldest (duration, not age) friends have become pregnant. One, an awesome and lovely woman with whom I went to grade school, high school, and college, is due to give birth December 5th. In a strange coincidence, that date happens to be the anniversary of the day I was hit as Carleen and I tried to cross a busy road. I'm excited for that date to take on a new significance. Carleen and her husband have kept a blog journaling their first year of marriage and, now, their journey into parenthood. I recommend it.

My other friend, Nancy, was my roommate through all four years of college. It's only in hindsight that I see how much of a saint she was to put up with me! After college she moved back to California, and I couldn't have been more excited when she fell for a guy from Southwest Ohio and returned to the Midwest a few years ago. Nancy's four months pregnant and, like Carleen, I know she'll be a terrific mother.

Speaking of babies, mine isn't quite ready for the world. As you can see, I've colored in a few rectangles. Progress is being made. But I'm still a couple thousand words behind. Still, I'm hopeful to finish this month, allowing December to be revision month, and then January I can give my baby to beta readers.

Monday, November 21, 2011

So Bad!

That's what I call the writing I've done today: So bad!!! With work and life and hesitation, I've managed to fall behind in my November word count goals. According to my lovely NaNoFiMo chart, I should be celebrating 70,000 words today. Instead, I started today a few hundred words shy of 66,000.

I'm writing an arraignment hearing, thinking the whole time, "This is horrible! Why am I even writing this? I should be trying to figure out how to avoid this scene!"

But I'm trying to take a cue from the brave writers of NaNoWriMo, pursuing quantity over quality. Marching toward their goal with the understanding that not everything will be perfect; when the month and contest is over, they can mine their words for useful pieces. Maybe it's just a couple sentences, maybe it's half. Heck, maybe it's most of it. But the point is, they can't worry about that during the contest. Self-doubt is the enemy, here.

I glance back at what I have written and want to erase it. It's so easy to hit backspace, to highlight hundreds of words and delete them with a single key stroke! But I'll leave it. Maybe there's a gem or two in there; at the very least it gets me closer to where I need to be--because I can't wait to have the whole thing written, to print it out and examine it from beginning to end. I keep thinking of balls I've dropped along the way--"oh, I never mentioned this detail"; "I should clarify these points"--and stop myself from going backward. Once I'm done, once I have those 75,000 or so words, I can look at those balls (there has to be a better turn of phrase, but I need to get back to work!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Write! Write! Right?

I'm behind on my writing goals: I'm just past 65000 when I should be heading toward 67000 today. I've been picking up a lot of extra hours at the library, and the commute drains me.
If I've taken a few days off from writing, it takes me a while to get back into the narrative voice and write with any kind of sustained flow. These last few chapters feel plot heavy. I'm trying to resolve everything in a satisfying way. But I much prefer writing characters who are wallowing. Not characters in court rooms with lawyers and judges and handcuffs. If I don't like writing it, my reader won't like reading it, right? Okay, I'm just going to plow through. Easier to revise when there's something written.

Anyway, no excuses. Write write write!!!





Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Progress

I made a low-tech progress chart today for my made up National Novel Finishing Month (NaNoFiMo). From now through the end of November, I will fill in a block for every five-hundred words. Today involved some minor editing and revision based on the great feedback I received at last night's writing class. It's great hearing reactions from readers who aren't as close to the text as I am--and once they point something out, it seems obvious. But I know I wouldn't have found it on my own.

I also moved some pieces around. Between changing points of view and jumping around in the timeline, I was having trouble keeping track of when events took place. And if I, Puppet Master, was having trouble, then surely my readers would too.

The progress chart gives me the simple reward of coloring in at least one rectangle every day.

Turning Tides

I heard something comforting on the Diane Rehm show this morning as they discussed the election results from last night: 2006, 2008, and 2010 were wave elections, Democrat, Democrat, Republican, respectively. In 2006, people didn't like what Bush was doing in Iraq or the direction of the economy, so Democrats swept in. 2008, the nation was ready for a Democratic president after eight years of President Bush. In 2010, following the rise of the Tea Party and reflecting discomfort over the growth of government (bailouts, national health care law) regardless of the merits of each piece of that perceived growth, Republicans took over.

But the problem was, according to a panelist on NPR, that "extremists" replaced politicians who might actually compromise, who would work to get things done. The replacements, both at a state and national level, were people who actually had a disincentive to compromise. They were rewarded by their respective parties for allegiance to ideology, not allegiance to the citizens they represent. But voters, the panelist argued, didn't want extremists or ideologues. They just wanted to send a message that they didn't like where things were headed.

The panelist also argued that 2012 will not be a wave election. We're not going to sweep left or sweep right. We're going to be an electorate looking for people who will actually get things done. But we are largely a conservative nation--we are uncomfortable with change that happens too fast. Look at the results from Ohio last night for evidence of that: Issue Two, which would have limited collective bargaining rights for unions, failed. Governor Kasich and the Republican-controlled state house had enacted that and, unsure of the ramifications, we said "Not so fast!" But Issue Three, which was a referendum on the American Care Act (it said that we cannot be forced to purchase health insurance in Ohio) passed. I had voted no--I want Ohio to support the President's efforts to insure all Americans--but I understand why it failed. Private health insurance seems like such a scam; instead of being mandated to buy their insurance, I would rather pay taxes into a national health care pool. But while the ACA is flawed, it's a move in the right direction: health care is a right, not a privilege; everyone, regardless of "pre-existing conditions" should have access to affordable coverage.

Anyway, I feel like the tides are turning. Call me naive or overly-optimistic, but with the threat of double-dip recession receding and unemployment dropping (even if only slightly), I bet this holiday season will be a good one. I think we're heading in the right direction. And #occupywallstreet and the President's consistent message of "jobs, jobs, jobs" of late have shifted the media and nation's focus from debt and deficit to growing our economy and reducing inequality.

Hope that wasn't too rambling :)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Everything Falls into Place

After college, and during my two years of AmeriCorps and one year of grad school, I lived at home. Then I lived with a roommate for a couple years, and once she moved out to get married, I lived alone for the next few years. There were times when I felt sad or lonely, but more often I loved the solitude. I took care of myself. I paid my bills, changed jobs, made friends all on my own. And I felt a pride in doing so. I considered myself fiercely independent.

I'm living with my boyfriend now. It's been almost a year, actually, but don't tell my nana. It doesn't matter that I'm thirty-one. But my boyfriend is skilled in ways that I am not. He knows how to fix things that are broken, to change his own oil or flat tire. He tackles problems immediately rather than nudging them aside until they become so big they must be tackled. Then, of course, are his myriad computer skills.

And so I become dependent in unexpected ways. I get my oil changed in time because someone reminds me. I eat an actual dinner instead of the chips and dip I might have scarfed down, alone, a year ago. I pass up that second glass of wine. I get an awesome android smartphone because I know, now, that it's awesome. I don't have to figure it out for myself.

Some days I think, Once I finish the book, everything will fall into place! I'll figure out who I am and what I'm supposed to be doing. Whatever those answers, I'm very happy to be living with my boyfriend. It's wonderful having someone to come home to after a long day, someone who encourages me to keep writing when I want to procrastinate, and someone who makes me laugh and understands my dry sense of humor.

So I'm good. I'm more worried about my parents, my mom in Cincinnati and dad in Kenya. Her house was broken into Thursday afternoon; young men took televisions, jewelry, and cash. If they're brazen enough to do that in daylight, who's to stop them from coming back? And in eastern Africa, "Kenya has gone after al Shabaab, invading (sort of) Somalia to flush out this al quaeda affiliate. It is a big chunk to bite off, knowing that these shabaab guys are into revenge, kidnapping, retaliation and blowing things up." The US has issued a travel advisory for American citizens, and my dad's been cautioned to avoid Nairobi, particularly places tourists visit. For the most part, he's out of the city. But it's hard to stay away for long.

Tomorrow I'll go to my grandma's and watch the Bengals (they're 5-2!!!). Last week both my brothers came, which was a nice surprise.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Nanofimo

Each November, participants in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) attempt to start and finish a 50,000-word novel. According to the official website, 21 participated the first year, 1999. Last year, over 200,000 participated!

I first heard of NaNoWriMo a couple years ago. The library was involved with a number of programs supporting participating writers. Maybe someday I'll participate--writing so many words would force me to turn off my inner critic, right? But this year I've decided to designate November "National Novel Finishing Month." I have fewer than 15,000 words left--if a quarter-million can write 50,000 words in a month, surely I can write 5 chapters...

Good luck to all who are participating. I'm impressed by your ambition!




Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Crawling Under Tables

This past Saturday was Books by the Banks festival in Cincinnati, and by all measures it seemed to be a huge success. I'll learn the final numbers later, but last year 3500 attended, and this year should be even bigger.

For most of the six hours the event went on, I was on the floor of the convention center, helping visitors find specific authors, letting people know when and where panel discussions were taking place, and assisting authors in my "area." This meant bringing them water or coffee, letting them know when their assigned lunch time was approaching, or pulling over giant mascots for pictures (my favorite task!) I also updated the Books by the Banks twitter feed throughout the day, which meant taking pictures of the crowd and authors and posting them online.

Because I was so busy all day, I forgot I was shy; that large crowds and new people scare me. I could just think about them--helping them, making sure they had a great experience--and not worry about my own neuroses. Maybe that's why I'm drawn to public service. While a part of me wants to crawl under a table and hide with my book (or notebook) I know I need to engage with others. If I'm providing service to others, that engagement becomes easier for me and I find that I actually enjoy it.

But to provide an example of the highs and lows of public service, a customer called me a "dingbat" yesterday. Seriously.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My heart still bleeds...

Eeee! Crossed 60,000 words today!!! They're not all good--maybe none of them are, we shall see. I'm just proud of the accumulation of sentences. Word by word, sentence by sentence, I'm telling a story, one that's 80% finished!!! (Not counting revision and rewrites).

On an unrelated note, I just finished "Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World," a book by Michael Lewis ("The Big Short," "The Blindside.") In this short non-fiction book, Lewis travels from Iceland to Greece to Ireland to Germany and finally to California (where he rides bikes with Arnold Schwarzenegger), examining the causes and effects of the worldwide financial crisis. He talks to bankers, politicians, and finance ministers to try to understand how they got into such a mess (in the cases of Iceland, Greece, Ireland, and California) and how they avoided it (in the case of Germany, with some exceptions).

Lewis is a great storyteller, taking something that might be boring and dry and turning it into a compelling narrative. He approached each country as a journalist should--trying to understand it not through a preconceived framework but based on the facts he discovers. And because I discovered the facts along with him, as he told the story, I feel like I have a much better understanding of what happened. He looked at the culture of each country, too, to see how it related to its financial circumstances. From the New York Times review:
[Lewis]weaves... stories into a sharp-edged narrative that leaves readers with a visceral understanding of the fiscal recklessness that lies behind today’s headlines about Europe’s growing debt problems and the risk of contagion they now pose to the world.
It's a fascinating book that left me viewing the world through a more conservative lens. Two common threads across the countries? First, greed. It's omnipresent. Second, people taking more than they've earned simply because they can. Adults mortgaging their children's future in order to maintain a higher standard of living. It's not that I don't blame the elite bankers, who gambled with pensions and 401k's and manipulated the public; it's not that I don't blame government regulators who turned a blind eye so long as their coffers were filled; it's that at the end of the day, each of us is responsible for our own actions, for becoming as financially educated as possible. And I felt for Slovakia as it was being asked to bail out Greece.

Don't worry, my heart still bleeds (universal health care for the win!) but I feel like I have a better handle on where some of the tea party rhetoric comes from. My hope is that tea party-ers realize they're part of the 99%, too. (See Connor Friedersdorf's "Why the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street Should Cooperate")

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thanks for Reading

A week from Saturday will be the fifth annual Books by the Banks book festival in Cincinnati. Over one-hundred national, regional and local authors will appear downtown at the convention center to give talks, participate in panel discussions, and sign books. The "headliners" this year are Judy Collins, Dennis Lehane, and Chris Bohjalian, but I'm just as excited about less-familiar names, such as Martha Southgate, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Christopher Bollen, and Matt Kish.

Matt Kish has always loved Herman Melville's classic, "Moby-Dick." About a year ago he decided to draw one illustration for each page of the book, and he kept track of his progress on his blog, everypageofmobydick.blogspot.com. By the time he finished, he had a publishing deal. The book was released in the past week, and there's been a flurry of press (helpful for us as we promote Books by the Banks!) I saw the book, and it's gorgeous. A real objet d'art. The price reflects that: $26 for the paperback, and anywhere from $44-$70 for the hardback.

On a related note, I've sketched out my final five chapters. To keep on schedule, I need to write about sixteen-thousand words in just over two months. I'm excited to finish, to read my piece from beginning to end like it's an actual book; to hand it off to readers I trust to tell me what works and what doesn't work; and to get to work on my next project.

Sorry for the dearth of posts lately. I'm certain that after the festival and especially after I've finished draft #1 I'll be here much more often. Maybe I'll participate in a blog challenge that will require daily posts. Who knows. But thanks for reading--life is good :)


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rules of Civility

My first thought after I finished Amor Towles' novel, "Rules of Civility": This is what a novel *should* be. It was that good. Set in 1938's NYC, the book chronicles a year in one young woman's life when she makes choices that will set the paths of her career and social circle. The narrative voice, dialogue, and descriptions perfectly capture that era. I'm shocked that a) Towles is male, because the narrator, Katherine Kontent, is so finely drawn and that b) this is Towles' first novel. I highly recommend it.

I have the next two days off from the library and hope to knock out a good chunk of writing. This is the first time I've gotten to sit at my desk for more than fifteen minutes since last Thursday, and I feel so happy to be here!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wax on, wax off...


A week is too long between entries, so here's just a quick update:

  • My dad's back in Kenya. He just uploaded a picture of a giant grasshopper perched on his friend's hand; the grasshopper's name, appropriately, is Godzilla.
  • My other brother found a job. Yay!
  • I crossed 55,000 words today... while I'm excited to keep writing and to finish the book and revise it and submit it for publication, I'm a little anxious about what comes next. Try to get back to full-time at the library? Seek a better-paying job closer to where I live? Write another book? It's heart versus head.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Building a House from the Inside Out

One of my favorite books from the past few years has been "The History of Love," by Nicole Krauss. I reviewed it for the library back in 2007, writing that the book
was one of those rare novels that captured me on page one then held me hostage from other activities—namely eating and sleeping—until I reached the final page. And once I was released, all I wanted to do was find someone else who'd read it and shared my experience.
The writing is exquisite, and the characters are fully-drawn. Consider the voice of one of the main characters, Leo Gursky: When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, “Leo Gursky is survived by an apartment full of shit.”

Both "The History of Love" and her next novel, "Great House," have multiple story lines; as a reader, I was never quite sure how they were (or weren't) going to converge. I had assumed that the plots were as intricately-drawn as her sentences.

So it was wonderful to hear her speak this past Friday night at my favorite local bookstore. Krauss, speaking so softly that everyone in the audience strained their necks forward (she also had to compete with a loud child downstairs), read an excerpt from "Great House." An older man addresses his son whom he had never completely understood. Even in a very short passage, with little context, the writing has an emotional punch. After the reading, she took some questions from the audience, and most were about her writing process.

For her, writing a novel is like building a house from the inside out. She starts by describing the doorknob. Then she needs a door. Then a room, then the rooms to which it is attached, and little by little she builds a house. She never knows exactly what the house is going to look like when it's finished.

In "Great House," she crafted four stories--set in New York, London, Israel, and Chile--without consciously knowing how the stories were related. She explained that because they all came from her mind, they must be connected, if only thematically.

Having my work-in-progress carefully plotted and outlined has freed me from some worry: I know where I'm going, and I know where my characters are going. But as a reader, I tend to prefer books driven more by character than by plot. I'll have to keep that in mind as I revise.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Milestone!


Today, around 6:30pm, I surpassed 50,000 words (note the update on my progress bar!) Homestretch! Calls for a picture of an excited cat!

Illustration from Daily Haha

The Part Where Everything Comes Together

Some days I'm just tickled to be a writer. By "be a writer" I mean, having the opportunity to sit at my computer and make up stories for hours on end. How lucky can a person get?

In class Tuesday, we were asked to do a fast-write about what still needs to be written in our respective projects. I wrote,
The final act, Act III, the part where everything comes together. Mysteries are solved, situations resolved, and loose ends are tied. In other words, everything.
I know what happens in my story. I know what my characters will do. I'm just incredibly psyched to be writing it now. Who knows how good or mediocre my final product will be--I know I have good pieces, good chunks of pages, but I won't know how well everything works together until the end.

* * *

Tuesday I finished reading Paula McLain's "The Paris Wife," about Hemingway's first marriage told from the wife's point of view. I haven't read anything by Hemingway except some of his short stories; McLain's novel made me want to read more of him, including "A Moveable Feast." Wednesday I started Jay Asher's "13 Reasons Why," a novel about what led a teenager to kill herself. Two weeks after her suicide, one of her classmates receives a shoe box full of audiotapes in which the girl describes her reasons for killing herself. It's a haunting young-adult novel, and I'm already two-thirds finished. I highly recommend both books.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ultimate Justice

Two chilling moments in the past two Republican debates:

1. Audience members, last Wednesday, cheer at the mention of the more than two-hundred individuals who been executed in Governor Rick Perry's Texas. Anyone who's followed the Cameron Todd Willingham case knows how flawed the death penalty system is in that state.

2. Audience members, last night, cheer and say "Yes!" as Wolf Blitzer asks Ron Paul if society should let an uninsured 30-year-old man in a coma die. (To his credit, Paul responded that charities should step in and cover his costs).

I'm trying to understand this lack of compassion. I hope for President Obama's re-election in 2012, but I know he's vulnerable. If it's not him, I hope for a President Romney or Huntsman, someone who won't fan the flames of blood lust.

Andrew Sullivan (a Reagan conservative) put it best at the end of one of his posts yesterday about the current state of the Republican Party:

If you ask why I remain such a strong Obama supporter, it is because I see him as that rare individual able to withstand the zeal without becoming a zealot in response, and to overcome the recklessness of pure religious ideology with pragmatism, civility and reason. That's why they fear and loathe him. Not because his policies are not theirs'. But because his temperament is their nemesis. If he defeats them next year, they will break, because their beliefs are so brittle, but will then reform, along Huntsman-style lines. If they defeat him, I fear we will no longer be participating in a civil conversation, however fraught, but in a civil war.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In the Company of Women

The world of my work-in-progress is populated by females. Each has her own story, her own relationships, her own fears. In a lot of ways, it is the interaction and friendship between the female characters that propels the novel's action forward.

When I conceived of the book's idea, I imagined two females, one forty-ish, one a teenager, thrown into a difficult situation. Men are there--husbands and boyfriends, fathers and brothers--but they are most often on the periphery. And they are often selfish and negligent. This wasn't a conscious choice. In fact, I'd written over 30,000 words when I realized that readers of the book will think I hate men!

Of course, readers of this blog know that's not true: I think the world of the men in my life. But as a writer, I wanted to explore the bonds, spoken and not, between women. I wonder sometimes if men really understand how powerful those bonds are.

In my next book (!), I'll try to make my gender treatment more balanced. If I had trouble getting into the head of a fifteen-year-old girl, imagine the fun I'll have trying to see things from a thirty-year-old man's point of view...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"Oh _________________"

For the third year in a row, I completed the Cheetah Run, a 5k race at the Cincinnati Zoo. While I improved on last year's time, I still didn't meet my goal of finishing in under 40 minutes. But this year, I had an excuse: I fell.

My friend and I had just passed the one mile marker. We rewarded ourselves by slowing to a brisk walk. Before I realized what was happening, I was on the cement, my knee and hands scraped and bloody, and I said, "Oh &#@$" (insert a word I only say while driving, stuck behind a slow driver in the passing lane, while running late). I immediately put my hand to my mouth and said, "I'm sorry!" A lady turned to me: "I'd have said the same thing." A few asked if I was alright.

We continued, disappointed that we'd been slowed and hurrying to make up lost time. Just past the second mile marker a volunteer noticed my bloody knee and offered aid. We paused, again, and tried to sterilize and bandage the scrapes. I'd say we lost at least two minutes.

Three years now I've run this race and said, "I'm going to really start training!" And every year I find myself walking more than I run. I love walking. I love taking my time outside and being able to have a relaxed conversation with my boyfriend, or whomever I'm walking with. I admire those people who train, who get up with the sun and jog most mornings. Sometimes I think I'd like to be one of those people. More often, I relish my extra hour of sleep and my evening strolls. Also, I'm far less likely to trip while walking.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

In My Dreams

I wake up some mornings thinking about my story. How pieces will come together. Clues that I need to drop earlier. Character traits I may have forgotten about. I've laid in bed for over an hour thinking about writing but not mustering up the will to get out of bed and actually do it. Strange, right?

But I've never dreamed about my story. My characters haven't acted independent of the words I've written for them. I wish they would, though. I would love to wake up some morning, having watched my characters play and fight and debate in my sleep. Maybe it would help me get started that day.

Still, I continue to make progress. I crossed 46000 words today (check out my nifty progress bar on the left!), and I've written more than 60% of my word-count goal. I'm incredibly excited about finishing it. I think only at that point, after the first draft is written, will I be able to see some of the holes. Maybe that will be the hardest part: revision, followed by the long and perhaps painful process of trying to get published. Eeee!!!


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On Perfectionism


We began our first writing class of the term by talking about perfectionism. Anne Lamott wrote in "Bird by Bird" that "perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness." We were asked to do a seven-minute fast write on perfectionism and how it did or did not affect us as writers. Here's mine:

Would I call myself a perfectionist? Just look at my messy handwriting. My cluttered desk. My dish-filled sink. My three pairs of shoes laying about the living room. I'm not neat; I don't think everything has its place.

But then look at my writing--not the awkward loops and uncrossed t's but the words themselves. I try to make those as perfect as possible. Best words to convey the best ideas.

I'm a slow and deliberate writer, finishing 1500 words on the best days and 600 words on most. It might be a problem if I didn't make progress. If those 1000 words and 800 words and 1500 words didn't add up to one-hundred and fifty pages of carefully chosen words.

Could I write faster? Could I let go of my inner critic and get more words on the page? Maybe, but I don't know if that would be a good thing.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"It's a bird! It's a plane! It's... me?"

I did something crazy. Yesterday, I paid money to jump out of an airplane that was 13,000 feet in the air. That's more than two miles. Luckily, I have the pictures to prove it, because I'm not sure I'll ever do something like that again!



Thursday, August 25, 2011

A day's work

Earlier this week I listened to a Diane Rehm show on NPR where she was interviewing author Laura Lippman. Before becoming a bestselling novelist, Lippman started out as a writer for a newspaper in Waco, Texas, where she covered local politics and wrote feature stories. After a few years she became a writer for the Baltimore Sun, where she also wrote many different kinds of stories.

In the morning, as a newspaper writer, she would be given an assignment and a deadline. Usually she'd have that eight-hour day to research a story and write it. She could never say, "Oh, I'm not feeling it today," or "The words weren't flowing." She had no choice. She applies that same work ethic to her fiction writing. Every day she sits down at her desk and gets to work.

My friend and fellow writer has a similar work ethic. Here she describes "approaching writing as [she] would approach a project in the workplace." She has a limited amount of time that she can work on her novels, and so she makes that time count, producing one or two chapters in a three hours.

Today was the first day I've tried to write since late last week. I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with a chapter, and I found myself staring at the open word document. Then I looked over at my keyboard--maybe if I played for a few minutes I'd find my muse? No, I needed to focus. Maybe if I visited the New York Times website I'd get some ideas? Checked out the latest Voices of August post at Rough and Rede? No, I know how ten minutes of web browsing quickly turn into an hour for me.

So I thought about my friend. I thought about Laura Lippman. I turned off the wireless network on my laptop so that even if I open my browser (which I did more than once), I wouldn't see anything. I would quickly close it, reminding myself to focus. I started writing--it was okay, not great--and just kept writing. Push through anything I thought was mediocre, knowing I'll be able to go back and revise. In all I wrote almost 1300 words. It was a decent pace that I can replicate.

My reward? Writing this blog post and playing the keyboard!

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Do you still play?"

Representative Jean Schmidt--yes, that one--was a guest at my grandmother's 90th birthday party last week. She and her twin sister, Jennifer. Both asked me (not having seen me in more than seventeen years) if I still played piano: "You were so talented," they said.

I replied that I no longer played. After my accident, which seemed to erase the previous years of study, I never took piano as seriously. I still tinkered; I took a couple semesters of lessons in college; I played from the Reader's Digest Book of Christmas songs each December. But I never pushed myself to excel and get better like I had as a child.

A strange thing happened since my conversation with the twins: I got a new keyboard! It's a Yamaha, has 88 weighted keys, has a bunch of different voices and features that I don't understand. It is wonderful, and I love it. My boyfriend bought it as a combination birthday/Christmas/futurebirthday/futureChristmas present.

In addition to teaching him how to play (he plays guitar and played trumpet and other brass instruments in high school), I am pulling out my old sheet music. From Bach and Chopin to Carole King and Coldplay, I've spent hours at the keyboard since it arrived on Thursday.

Next time I see the Congresswoman, either at a protest at her office or my grandma's 100th birthday party, I can say, truthfully and happily, "Yes! I still play!"

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Voices of August: Rough and Rede

All month, a friend of mine has been hosting guest posts at his blog, Rough and Rede. Calling it the Voices of August, George Rede has invited people from his wide list of contacts to contribute pieces for each day of the month. From a woman poignantly describing her journey through despair and grief after losing her husband, to a principal-in-training reflecting on conversations about race and diversity in schools, I have been so impressed by the variety of topics and the intelligence and sensitivity with which they have been addressed.

Obviously I was honored when George asked me to contribute, saying I could write about anything from bowling and reading to a recent epiphany. I enjoyed the challenge of writing for a different audience and of having to write 600-800 words on a topic. My piece should be up Thursday. I encourage everyone to stop by Rough and Rede -- not for my essay so much as the other wonderful voices (George's included, of course!)


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Losing Words

In the past few days, I've lost over twelve-hundred words. This pains me, because I'm such a slow writer. A single paragraph is a small victory; a page, a large one.

I realized I had to combine two chapters and, in doing so, erase about four pages. Those words are cut and pasted into another word document, but for now they don't exist and probably won't exist in this book or future books.

* le sigh *

On a brighter note, I had a great birthday. Friday I went out to a movie with my mom, and that night to a Japanese restaurant with a bunch of my friends. Sunday I went over to my grandma's and had lunch with her, my dad and brothers. And the best news of the day, after months of searching and going on interviews, my brother got a job! It's full-time, with benefits! He'd been one of those long-term unemployed after losing his job at the airport early in 2010. Very happy for him.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A woman’s murder upends the lives of her daughter and best friend...

Last summer, as I was getting started with my book, I skimmed a lot of "How to " articles. "How to write a novel." "How to create believable characters." "How to plot." And for the most part, the articles told me nothing I didn't already know either from school or experience. Most spoke in general terms about the elements that work together to create a dynamic novel. More than the "How to" articles, I got more help from writers on the web talking about their own experience. How did they deal with problems? How did they stay motivated?

The one exception for me was Randy Ingermanson's article about the "Snowflake Method". He provides a framework for developing a novel but encourages writers to figure out what works best for them. Start small, he says.

First, take an hour to come up with a tag for your novel: a one-sentence, fifteen-word description. It's the main idea for your book. The crux. You're thinking about the whole picture, without worrying about the thousands of details that will fill it in. He recommends looking at the New York Times Bestseller list for examples, such as Jennifer Weiner's "Then Came You": This timely tale delves into women's lives, with themes of class and entitlement, surrogacy and donorship. I think only established writers like Weiner can use the word "themes" in their tag. For "Before I Go to Sleep," by S. J. Watson: A woman's life is complicated by the fact that her memories disappear every time she falls asleep.

(The title of this post is my initial attempt at a short hook. Suggestions for improvement are welcome. I just like the word "upends" :)

Next, take an hour to write a paragraph-long summary of your novel. Obviously, details are going to be left out, but it forces you to think about the most important part(s) of your story.

The third step is to write for each of your main characters their name, storyline (one sentence), motivation, conflict, and epiphany. Then, for each of those characters, develop your one-sentence storyline into a paragraph.

Step four, turn your one-paragraph summary into a whole page. This requires you to think more about the different acts of your story and fill in the most important details.

Ingermanson's process goes on to describe steps five through eight. He suggests writing page-long description of each character. But until I got a sense of their voices and personality on paper, I didn't want to over think them. He also suggests creating an Excel spreadsheet of the scenes. However, that was too structured for me. I knew once I had the basic framework, and could imagine the piece as something that told a complete story over 300 pages, I was ready to begin.

Looking back at my notes from last summer, I see that I haven't strayed much from my initial outline. But the lines between those dots I'm connecting have gone in very unexpected directions.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"...the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called 'overpaid'..."

If you haven't seen it already, please check out Matt Damon's impassioned defense of teachers at a Save Our Schools (SOS) rally.



To loud cheers, he says, "I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test."

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bums, Bums, all of 'em Bums

The past few mornings I've woken up with my stomach knotted over these stupid debt talks. I'm angry at how out of touch Washington is. I'm angry at the Congress. I'm angry that our president couldn't get a better deal even when public opinion is on his side. I'm angry that I'm wasting energy on this.

But this is where writing helps. At the end of August, I'll begin a new term of Women Writing for (a) Change. My previous three terms were filled with women of different backgrounds, writing for different purposes. Some wrote as therapy. It became a safe place to explore ideas and feelings. Others wrote to express themselves. Still others wrote because they enjoyed it. For most, I'm sure, it was a combination of those factors.

A few of us were working toward the completion of larger pieces; the class provided the support and encouragement to keep writing each week. To always have something new to share. When I took my first class, I had the draft of a chapter and a rough outline. Today, I'm more than halfway finished and feel the end in sight.

This next term I'm taking a "Mastery" class. We'll meet every other week, and I think each "student" is working on a longer piece. Also, it's co-ed. It will be interesting to see how that affects the dynamics of the class.

I've missed having that community this summer, I think more than I anticipated. To have those two-and-a-half hours blocked off where I have permission to focus solely on writing and on myself is indeed a luxury. It replenishes like nothing else.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Head-banging

I feel like banging my head against a wall. No one outside of Washington cares about the debt and the politicking going on. The rest of us care about the deficit only insofar as it affects our nation's stability. We care more about the lack of jobs, the lack of pay increases and benefits. We care about education. We care about our neighbors and family, struggling to get by.

Meanwhile, I write.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Confessions of a Former TV Addict

Some time around age nine, television supplanted books as my main diversion. I was finished with "The Babysitters' Club," "Sweet Valley High" and "The Secret Garden." In their place was "Thundercats," "Gummi Bears," and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." During summers, I watched "Another World" and "Days of Our Lives" (only the latter soap opera is still on; it's amazing how little has changed).

We didn't have cable, so my options were limited to the five or six over-air channels, but I memorized the programming on each of those stations. I even knew what was playing in Dayton, which was usually staticky, but came in handy when a Reds game was preempting my shows (this was long before I was a hardcore baseball fan).

Through junior high and high school, I wasn't a social creature; rather than my classmates, I hung out with Brenda, Dylan, and the gang from Beverly Hills: 90210 on Wednesday nights. I could easily watch four hours a night, doing my homework during commercials.

Luckily, I weaned myself off of heavy television-viewing during college; now, I mostly watch it streaming, over Netflix (we're currently on the second season of 30 Rock), just a half-hour a day, or Sundays at my grandma's, where we watch the Reds, some cable news, and HGTV.

Sometimes I think about all those lost hours. I could have read a couple hundred novels--or perhaps written two.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review: "A Visit from the Goon Squad"

I just finished Jennifer Egan's marvelous "A Visit from the Goon Squad," which won the 2011 Pulitzer prize for fiction. Like 2009 winner "Olive Kitteridge," Egan's book is made up of interconnected short stories that go backward and forward through time ("Time's a goon,"more than one character says.)

At the center of the novel are Bennie, a music producer, and his assistant Sasha. We see Bennie as a teenager during the height of San Francisco's punk scene, and later, as an old man, trying for one last success. We see Sasha, as a kleptomaniac 35-year old, as well as a nineteen-year old runaway. We also see, much more deeply than expected, the host of characters that populate their lives, that have influenced them and been influenced by them.

In fact, most of what we learn about Sasha and Bennie is indirect; these two characters are on the periphery as their friends, wives, and mentors tell the story. Each chapter is told in a different character's point of view (sometimes first person, third person, one in second-person, and another through power-point presentation slides).

As strong as the first chapter was, it took me a while to get drawn in to Egan's book. I didn't always feel compelled to move on to the next chapter. But once I began to see the connections between the characters and understand what Egan was doing, a momentum carried me straight to the end. The writing is sharp and the novel holds together less as a series of interrelated short stories and more as a complete novel with something to say about our lives.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Five Posts for the Price of One Click!

I've started five posts today. Each got deleted because I didn't think I could adequately address the subject in two paragraphs.

The first one drew attention to an opinion piece about shyness in the NYTimes: "Is Shyness an Evolutionary Tactic?"

The second pointed out one of my favorite columnists of late, Ta'Nehesi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic. He blogs about everything from Jane Austen to immigration. And his posts have some of the most intelligent comments you'll find on the web.

The third was on the cheating scandal in Atlanta's Public Schools. The governor's report showed nearly 180 teachers engaged in some kind of cheating on standardized tests, from changing students' answers to facilitating cheating by giving students unauthorized assistance. Think Progress reports:
While uncovering this widespread cheating, the report also noted that these abuses were facilitated by a “culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” that faced APS teachers and administrators, who were pressured to raise test scores and feared for their jobs if they protested these policies or even reported cheating. One excerpt from the report found that a principal forced a teacher under a table during a meeting because her students’ test scores were deemed unsatisfactory.
The fourth was on a revelation about President Obama's father:

Before Barack Obama was born, his parents may have considered putting him up for adoption, according to documents obtained by a reporter for The Boston Globe.

Mr. Obama’s father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., told immigration officials that Ann Dunham, whom he had recently married, would make “arrangements with the Salvation Army to give the baby away,” one document said. [Obama, Sr., had to reapply for his Visa yearly].

The article in the New York Times indicated that President Obama had not previously known about his father's statement. I just imagine the President, worried about the job numbers, worried about Libya and debt ceiling negotiations, coming across this information. When does he have time to process it? To think about it? How does this fit in his narrative about his father? His own life?

I'm trying to remember the fifth post. That was going to be the awesome one, I'm sure. The most interesting and original.

I continue to write and revise and add details to my made-up story. I borrowed another writing book from the library, "The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing." It is a collection of pieces that had been written for "The Writer's Digest," with contributions from popular authors like Orson Scott Card, Lawrence Block, and Tom Clancy. They give advice on everything from dialogue and plotting to revision and selecting genre. David Groff wrote a chapter, "The Ten Essentials of Popular Fiction," and discussed the characteristics of a successful commercial ("popular") novel. I figured my own work would never cross over into the commercial category (I consider it "literary fiction," that is, "unpopular"), and Groff's words supported my assumption:

While this may surprise you, commercial fiction is always morally conservative. It doesn't matter how many Dirks bed how many Ambers, or how many KGB agents kill off innocent Berliners on the way to find CIA operative Tim Sheahan. A literary novel may, like a piece of contemporary music, be atonal -- and leave the reader feeling discord; but in a commercial novel the narrative ends on the tonic note, with balance restored and order reigning. The good doctor marries the actress, even though she has had to sleep with half of the Screen Actors Guild. The renegade Miami cop manages to blow up the drug smuggler's trawler before it docks in Tampa. In every case, the values and balance of the civilization are reaffirmed, at least temporarily.

He argues that works of popular fiction "are by nature optimistic." I don't know that I can do that. I'm generally an optimistic person, I suppose, thinking the best of people, often against my better judgment. But I'm also very guarded. Very careful and even tentative at times. And perhaps subconsciously, I'm using my novel to show that that "guardedness" is warranted. Life is complicated and messy, and I couldn't write with honesty by pretending otherwise.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I am Puppet Master!!!

This year I'm part of the planning team for my library system's annual book fair. Every couple weeks we gather and discuss which authors to invite or, if the author has already submitted an application, whether to accept him or her. A few of the members have connections to publishing companies, so they are responsible for recruiting "big" names. But I've enjoyed being a part of this committee, emailing authors and looking at their websites and twitter accounts, seeing how they interact with their readers.

As more authors are confirmed and we approach the date of the event, I will help to promote the authors, their work, and the event on our website, Facebook, and twitter. I also notice that a lot of the authors have goodreads accounts, and I hope to utilize that as well.

Me, I passed 36,000 words today. I look back at my last entry, almost two weeks ago, and I'd hoped to have over 40,000 words by now. But I won't be discouraged. Next week I'll meet with my writing friend, get (and give) feedback. I still plan to finish by the end of this year, and that goal hasn't changed. On top of that, I figured out some important plot points -- I got tired of waiting for the characters to answer some questions for me, so I answered them myself! I am puppet master!!!

And maybe someday, in the not-too-distant future, I'll be asked to participate in a book fair or too!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Odds and Ends

I added a widget to the left from my goodreads account. It shows the twenty most recent books I've read, although I've added few reviews on the site. I'll have to rectify that. Most I've written about either here or for the library... and I can borrow my own content, right?

Anyway, I'm trying to get back into the swing of things, where I can write without thinking so much. I crossed over 35,000 words today -- still behind my original schedule, but not bad considering the number of hours I've been working. I'm feeling better about the story after a couple weeks of self-doubt that probably came from not working on it much. It also helped to read a few books that were really well-written and think, "Hey! I can do that too!"

And my dad is back in the U.S. -- yay! I know how bittersweet it is for him to leave Kenya, but it's so nice having all my family in one state, at least for a little bit. We're a small but mighty bunch.

Here's to a great weekend... and to passing 40,000 words by the end of June!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reading Spells

I go through spells where I read one book after the next, followed by long periods in which I read nothing but blogs and news articles. My book reading spells are correlated with greater happiness, but I don't know if I'm happy because I read books or if I read books because I'm happy. Either works for me.

In the space of four days, I finished two books I really enjoyed. The first is "Wench," by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. "Wench" follows four mistresses and their slave masters in the 1840s and 50s. The story focuses on Lizzie, who loves her master and has two children with him. Each summer the masters take their mistresses off their respective plantations up to a "resort" in Southwest Ohio (between Dayton and Columbus and north of Cincinnati). For the first time in their lives, they meet other black people who are not enslaved. Despite her special status, Lizzie begins to realize the freedom that she and her children lack. The book moves quickly, and I think it could have gone on for another hundred pages.

The other book I finished is "Divergent," by Veronica Roth. If you liked "The Hunger Games" (which I loved), you'll really enjoy "Divergent." It's set in a future Chicago (the Sears Tower is now called "The Hub") and society is divided into five factions, each of which values a different virtue: Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, Erudite, and Candor. Beatrice, the protagonist, has been raised in Abnegation; members of this faction value selflessness above all else. They dress in plain gray clothes, eat plain food. and leave the walls of their homes unadorned. They serve and defer to others. At age sixteen, based on an aptitude test, boys and girls must choose which faction they will join for the rest of their lives. Most stay with the one in which they were raised, but if they choose another, they are basically excommunicated from their families. Beatrice's choice affects everyone in unexpected ways. She is a strong young female character, and she guides us through the story in first-person present. Like "Wench," this a quick read. But this one ends in a cliffhanger. The sequel, "Insurgent," comes out next year, and I wish I didn't have to wait so long.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Avoidance

I don't believe in writer's block. I believe we sabotage ourselves, we avoid writing, or we stumble for reasons that hide in our subconscious. If I can't/don't write, it's probably because there's something that isn't working in my piece; I need time away to gain perspective, to figure out what that problem is.

With my novel, I'm slowly getting back. I worked on it a bit yesterday and today, removing a part that had made me uncomfortable, adding more of the teenage character's voice. I think the more I write from her perspective, and the closer I get to her head, the more I'll understand and empathize with her. I'm working extra hours of the library, so I have significantly fewer "writing" days; I need to learn how to make those days count.

As for the blog, I've avoided it because I didn't want to sit down, open up a new post, and realize I have nothing to say. But today I relaxed. Decided I needed to write something, even if it was just about my little struggles.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tennessee (in pictures)

Our chalet in Pigeon Forge was a short distance from the many buffets, souvenir shops, and amusement parks that line the street leading (eventually) to Gatlinburg. But the view from the back didn't suggest any of that.
My boyfriend and I arrived Friday afternoon; his dad and step-mother (and her mom, 83-years old) were already there, and his sister, her husband, and their two daughters got there just after the pizza that evening.

Saturday, the nine of us headed into Gatlinburg. We rode up the Ober Gatlinburg then took a chairlift even higher (and for another $7) to get better views.


(As usual, I got carried away with the panorama function on my phone.)

That evening, all of us (minus 83-year-old Hilda) went to the Dixie Stampede. I should say, Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. After a 45-minute warm-up act by a blue grass trio playing everything from "She'll be coming 'round the mountain" to "Sweet Home Alabama," we were herded to an arena where we sat in rows and were served a four-course meal sans silverware. This included a Cornish Game hen.

Pictures weren't allowed once the show started, but I did get a couple before and after:


There were horses and chicken races and buffalo and lumberjacks and singing (including a giant image of Dolly Parton telling us in song that America is beautiful). My favorite part? When Scarlett O'Ham-a won the piglet race. Those piglets were pretty cute.

The next day my boyfriend and I headed into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to do some hiking, the Alum Cave Bluff trail. We had to hold on to a cable as we walked up these narrow stairs through the bluff:
We went a little nuts on the trail with another cool function of my camera, the "action shot." Hit the shutter once and it snaps a picture whenever something in the frame moves:

The hike took a little over two hours. After that we found the only Indian restaurant in Pigeon Forge (a buffet!) and then went on... a helicopter ride! For a small fee, a pilot flew me and my boyfriend, as well as a man and his young son, over the Douglass Lakes for about twenty minutes. I'd never been in a helicopter before, so it was a pretty cool experience. I asked if we'll be that high up when we go sky diving this summer; my boyfriend replied, "We're probably at 1000 feet now; we'll be at 10,000 feet when we jump." (Dad, did I mention I'm going sky diving?)

Each night (three in all) we saw the sun set behind the mountains in back of our chalet (I'll miss being able to use that word). I probably took sixty pictures of it in all, but my favorite came the last evening:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Quickish Hits

This past weekend I attended "Crawl for Cancer" in Columbus. For a $40 entrance fee, I received a tee-shirt and a lot of beer. From 1pm to 5pm, the ten of us received four pitchers of beer at five separate bars--if we were dividing equally, that would be two pitchers of beer per person.

Long-time friends and readers know I attend a wine tasting most Fridays. I hang out in a grocery store and, over the course of two hours, drink five 2-oz samples of wine. That's two regular glasses of wine. While eating. That's not much. And except for the occasional glass of wine or mug of beer with dinner, that's all the drinking this thirty year old does.

I guess that's my way of explaining why I stopped drinking midway through the fourth bar as I discretely threw up in my plastic cup.

Regardless of the outcome, it was a great event for a great cause. It was a beautiful day in Columbus, and I was impressed by the area.

Tomorrow my boyfriend and I leave for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee for a four-day, three-night trip. His parents have rented a chalet, and we'll be staying with them, his sister and her husband and two daughters. I'm crossing my fingers for great weather so we can get outside :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Last Week = A Wash

Last week was a wash, and I’m not talking about the rain. Three weekdays off work, and I spent more time watching “Veronica Mars” than working on my book. It wasn’t for lack of effort – I stared, I tried out paragraphs, I edited, I researched, I reread portions – but the words weren’t flowing.

I’m torn between espousing the merits of the wonderful “Veronica Mars” and complaining about my struggles. I think, ultimately, it’s better for me to figure out why I’m having trouble, so I’ll save Veronica for another day.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was adding another point of view to my work-in-progress. I had been telling everything through a narrator who could only see through one character’s perspective. Eight chapters later, I realized that the story would improve by getting the perspective from another important character. It wouldn’t be too difficult, I thought, to insert chapters from this other point of view.

I’ve written two and am halfway through a third. But I’m struggling with the voice; it’s still third person, but now it goes inside the head of a teenager. The forty-year-old woman was easy compared with this fifteen year old.

I’ve said, mostly joking, that I hate teenagers. They’re loud, impulsive, and squirrely. They made me uncomfortable even when I was one. I don’t understand them—and I need to in order to write from the perspective of one. I don’t want to simply write a character who’s “wise beyond her years.” Obviously I’m generalizing here, and part of my solution will be to create someone who has her own traits, her own interests. Maybe I need to take time to write a character sketch, to write her diary entries. Maybe I need to know her better before plopping her in my fictional world. I think I’ve avoided doing that because I know the plot.

There ya go. That’s what I’ll do. I doubt I’ll reach my 40,000 word goal by the end of May, but I’ll try for 50,000 by the end of June. That will give me a little more breathing room.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Value of Education

followed the progress of several thousand students in more than two dozen diverse four-year colleges and universities. [They] found that large numbers of the students were making their way through college with minimal exposure to rigorous coursework, only a modest investment of effort and little or no meaningful improvement in skills like writing and reasoning.
They point out that resources at college are increasingly directed toward fitness centers and sports complexes, not on academics. They also argue that
[t]he authority of educators has diminished, and students are increasingly thought of, by themselves and their colleges, as “clients” or “consumers.” When 18-year-olds are emboldened to see themselves in this manner, many look for ways to attain an educational credential effortlessly and comfortably. And they are catered to accordingly. The customer is always right.
Who's to blame, here? It's easy to point fingers at the students. After all, it is their responsibility to take advantage of their classes and instructors, to make their learning meaningful. While I often questioned my own skills as a teacher, I reminded myself that students will get out of a class what they put into it: I can't open up a student's head and deposit knowledge into it. And I regret that I didn't make the most of my own undergraduate experience: while my grades were good, I rarely put 100% into my studies. If I could get away with not reading the text, I would. But then I might have missed out on watching "Pulp Fiction" at 4am, or traipsing across campus at midnight for Taco Bell.

There was never a question of whether I would go to college, and I didn't think twice about the price of tuition, or student loans, or choosing a practical major. The four years I spent there would help me transition from a shy little girl to a more confident person with a degree. I know without a doubt that my learning there was meaningful and essential.

But considering the rise of for-profit colleges and the increase of high school graduates going on to college (and taking out huge loans to pay for it), the lack of value suggested by the NYU researchers should give all of us pause.




Monday, May 16, 2011

Great Weekend

Friday night I went to a Reds game to see the first in their series against the Cardinals. Here was my view for much of the game:
But with the game tied in the tenth, he and his intoxicated posse left, I had this great view:


The Reds won with a Joey Votto single in the bottom of the tenth and went on to win Saturday and Sunday, sweeping the series and taking the lead in the central!

Last night we headed again downtown to Cincinnati's Music Hall to see The National play. The band members grew up in Cincinnati but are now based in Brooklyn: this was sort of their homecoming. (Side note: when I graduated high school, we had our ceremony in Music Hall!) Anyway, it was a great show. My only concern was the amount of wine the lead singer was drinking; his stumbles increased throughout the show, even requesting to start one song over. Is it strange that I worry about this stranger?

I'm rarely off work on Saturdays, so weekends don't often have the same charm they did when I was a student. My days off are usually Tuesday and Friday--Saturdays are requested a couple months in advance. But this weekend, even though I worked Saturday, was pretty great.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Tough Out There

The other day a man came into the library. He's been in a few times, always to use the computer, always to apply for jobs. The first time he came in, he was trying to apply to a grocery chain. As he answered page after page of questions, he kept getting error messages. He entered something incorrectly by leaving a space in an email address, or he left something blank. Finally his time would run out and his session would end, automatically, and he'd lose all the information he had spent an hour entering. When he started over, I helped him create a name and password, in case the same thing happened.

A week or two later, back at the computer, he was applying for a different job. It was janitorial. He was stuck on an early part of the application process, where it asked him to upload a resume. He didn't have a resume, let alone one that he could upload. I suggested the free workshops that the library offers at our main branch to help write resumes; he didn't ask for any details, but I hope he follows up on it.

He was extremely kind, and even more patient. I feel bad that jobs that have nothing to do with computers have this extra technological barrier. But it's tough out there--people who are very computer literate and college-educated are competing for many of the same jobs as others with only a high school diploma. (That isn't to say that a college degree is required for computer literacy--I know many, both of my brothers included, who are more savvy on computers than their educated counterparts!)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Your Happiest Moment? Your Saddest?

My boyfriend asked me these questions yesterday evening, and I had no answers. First of all, I'm not good at serious discussions after sunset. My mind is settled on more pressing issues, like "Who got kicked off American Idol?" and "Is it late enough to go to sleep yet?" Second of all, they're not easy questions.

But today, the sun is out and I'm fully imbibed with caffeine. My mind returns to those questions, and I wonder: Do most people have their happiest moment crystallized in their heads? Is it a vacation? a birthday? a first kiss? Likewise, their saddest? A death? A break-up?

I worry that I missed my happiest moment; I failed to record it in my mind as such and now cannot retrieve it. Was my happiest moment playing cards with new friends my freshman year of college? Was it touring Giverny, France, with my father at age 23? Or was it earlier? Designing obstacle courses or building pen museums as an eight-year-old? Was it sitting on my grandmother's lap watching Lawrence Welk? Or lying in bed as my mom told me stories?

Or maybe it hasn't happened yet; maybe that moment is still to come. I'll try to be more vigilant and catch it when it does.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Carrying Memories

Story Corps is attempting to record a story for each of the nearly three-thousand victims on September 11, 2001. A wife or child, for example, describes that day, her emotions, and how she carries forward. Or he might describe their last conversation. The first one I heard on NPR was three or four years back; I was driving to school to teach a Composition class and showed up with red eyes. A little boy had described his grandfather who'd perished in the twin towers.

This morning I cried as a woman described being on the phone with her husband, 9:30 that morning, as he attempted to find an escape route. When the smoke became thicker, and his fate became clear, the two stopped talking about escape routes. She said she wanted to crawl through the phone line and lie with him, and he told her that she needed to keep on living for the two of them.

I didn't cry on September 11. It was too big, too abstract. I was 21 and so worried about our retaliation--who were we going to bomb, what innocents were going to die--that I'm not sure I processed the individual tragedies here at home.

But each of those victims--in the twin towers, the pentagon, Flight 93, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere--has a story. Nearly ten years later, I think I'm better able to grasp these losses. And I take comfort in thinking that someone who loved them carries their memory; shares it. So far, Story Corps has over one-thousand stories of September 11 victims. What an important treasure.