Monday, October 31, 2011


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, 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!