Thursday, January 31, 2013

Update on the Book

I spent about a year and a half writing the 80,000-word first draft of my novel, and another year revising.  The fact that I've had a full time job the past year helps me feel better about how long this is taking.  I know it's stronger for the changes I'm making, and I'm glad I didn't rush to send it out, eager for "professional" feedback (that feedback would have come as a series of form rejections!)

I've revised and edited about 54,000 of the 80,000 words.  So I'm more than halfway there.  Unfortunately, the second half of the book was the weaker half.  It's going to take more than minor tweaking to get it into the shape I want it.  But it should be easier to fix than it was to write it in the first place...

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had read Ayana Mathis' "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie" -- it's a great book, each chapter telling the story of one of Hattie's twelve children, and it stands out to me primarily because of the writing.  Good plots and good characterization, but GREAT writing.  After I read that, I decided to do something completely different. I'm finally reading "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" books.  I read the first one in just a few days, and I'm a third of the way through the second one after just starting it yesterday.  My fiancé can't believe I'm reading it so quickly, but I tried to explain that when plot is the best thing in a book, it's easy to skim over large portions of paragraphs.  It isn't that I'm not reading everything, it's that I'm not reading everything very closely.   But these popular books remind me that, at least when I'm just trying to move the story forward, I can use plain language.  I can be straightforward.  Sometimes it's nice for the reader to just be able to relax and read quickly and not feel like she has to examine each sentence.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Through the Eyes of a Kenyan"

Hi all,

Head on over to Rough and Rede to see a guest post I wrote about our Kenyan friend Ben Lotiang'a and his experiences both home and in the States.  I've previously contributed posts to George Rede's Voices of August, and I'm happy to help kick off what will be a monthly series.

Today at my grandma's, I said goodbye to Ben and to my dad, who fly back to Kenya tomorrow.  My dad will be back home in May, in plenty of time for my wedding.  I hope we'll get to see Ben again, whether here in Ohio or when I finally make it over to East Africa!

Friday, January 25, 2013

If You're Going to Have a Wedding...

There's a series of children's books by Laurie Numeroff that are about the chain reaction that occurs following a simple action.  One of the first book goes,

If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk.  When you give him the milk, he'll probably ask for a straw.   
When he's finished, he'll ask for a napkin.  Then he will want to look in the mirror to make sure he doesn't have a milk mustache. When he looks in the mirror, he might notice his hair needs a trim.  So he will probably ask for a pair of nail scissors.   
When he's finished giving himself a trim, he'll want a broom to sweep up.  He might get carried away and sweep every room in the house.  He may even end up washing the floors as well!  When he's done, he'll probably want to take a nap.  You will have to fix a little box for him with a blanket and pillow.  He'll crawl in, make himself comfortable and fluff the pillow a few times.   
He'll probably ask you to read him a story.  So you'll read him one from one of your own books, and he'll ask to see the pictures.  When he looks at the pictures, he'll probably get so excited he'll want to draw one of his own.  He'll ask for paper and crayons.  He'll draw a picture.  When the picture is finished he'll want to sign his name with a pen.  Then he'll want to hang the picture on your refrigerator.  Which means he will need... scotch tape.  He'll hang up his drawing and stand back to look at it.   
Looking at the refrigerator will remind him that he's thirsty so... he'll ask for a glass of milk.   
And chances are if he asks for a glass of milk... he's going to want a cookie to go with it.

There are other books that follow similar patterns.  If you give a moose a muffin... If you give a pig a pancake... You get the picture.  Sometimes when I think of my wedding (just four months away), this story comes to mind.  If you're going to have a wedding, you're going to have to find someone to officiate.  You're going to want guests, so you'll have to send invitations.  You're going to have to buy a dress.  Pick out flowers.  Find a photographer.  Pick a venue and a date.  If you have guests, they're going to want something to eat.  After they eat, they'll want something to drink.  After they drink, they'll want to dance.  But before they dance, they'll want to see the bride and groom dance.  If the bride dances, she'll trip over her two left feet and fall and sprain her ankle and have to go to the emergency room in her wedding dress....

I wanted something inexpensive and laid-back, something that proved I didn't buy into the whole "wedding industrial complex."  But no matter how simple my intentions, the very act of having a celebration with more than fifty people requires some degree of planning.  There's putting a deposit on a venue, giving out save-the-date cards, picking out a wedding dress (I ordered mine online!) and getting it hemmed because apparently the female intended for this dress is six feet tall.   I'm incredibly lucky to have friends and family members (both on my side and my fiancé's) that support my vision.  And while I wouldn't have minded just eloping or getting a justice of the peace, I think this is better.  By including all these people in our celebration, they become invested in our marriage.  Our family.  Our future.  As a natural loner, I need friendly people to keep me in the light.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Sunday Ritual

No, not that one... It's been over three years since I last went to church.  I'm talking about the other Sunday ritual that millions of Americans partake in: watching and following the NFL.

The Cincinnati Bengals made it to the playoffs this season, despite starting the season 3-6, with a Pro Bowl receiver, A.J. Green, and a stellar defense.  I've also enjoyed seeing Peyton Manning succeed in Denver, and will be rooting for the Broncos now that the Bengals have been eliminated.  I can't wait to see Manning vs Brady next week, assuming both the Broncos and Patriots win this weekend.  In the NFC, it's been exciting to see the success of rookie QBs Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, the latter leading the Seattle Seahawks to a first round playoff victory.

Yesterday morning it was confirmed that Junior Seau, one of the best linebackers in the history of the game, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a "a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia, memory loss and depression."  He shot himself last May, shocking friends, family, his community, former coaches and teammates, and the NFL world in general.  CTE is caused by repeated hits to the head, like the kind sustained while playing football or while boxing.  CTE can only be diagnosed post mortem, as doctors look at a slice of the deceased person's brain.

Chris Henry, the former Bengal, had CTE.  He died after jumping from the back of a moving vehicle.   Dave Duerson, a Pro Bowl safety with the Chicago Bears who retired in 1993, committed suicide in 2011, leaving a note that requested his brain be donated to research: he was found to have had CTE.

It's just not so fun anymore.  These players that we watch each Sunday--husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons--aren't just at risk for getting bruises and fractured bones.  They are damaging their most important muscle, their brain, for our entertainment.  This is why whenever there's a labor dispute between the owners and players, I'll always side with the players: give them more money, more guaranteed money, give them assurances that they won't be cut if they're injured to discourage playing through it... give them health care for the rest of their life.

But is that enough?  Are there fixes they can make to the game, or is it the game itself?  Should millions of us find a new Sunday ritual?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Rachel on Books

I think the main reason my blogging decreased and my tweeting virtually disappeared was because I lost purpose.  I blogged in order to figure things out and, as a quiet person trying to find her way in life, to have a space to voice her thoughts.  I tweeted not to figure things out but to connect with others.  I started blogging and tweeting before I really understood the words "social media."

I'll keep blogging here because I like the lack of topic constraints.  Politics, art, family, it's all fair game. I just need to make more of a point to take time to stop by.  But the nature of this free space has necessarily changed, as it is a reflection not just of myself but my soon-to-be husband.  So we'll see how/if marriage affects my perspective.  As with all things, I'm probably over-thinking this.

Twitter is a whole other story.  It is a giant conversation that I fell out of, except for accounts that I do with the library.  But my writing partner shared a link with me to a publishing company that is looking for people to review books.  Who can participate?

"Do you have a love of reading? How about an active Twitter following? A blog with a nearly exclusive focus on book reviews? If so, we want to talk to you!"

Looking at the types of books and the time commitment required, I don't think this is for me.  However, it did spur me to create a new twitter handle, @RachelOnBooks, exclusively to follow authors and publishers, and to tweet about books I've read or am interested in.  Again, we'll see how it goes.  It's so hard to get started on twitter, gain followers, and enter conversations.  And because I wanted to take the  user id while it was available, I also obtained and rachelonbooks @

On NPR today was a conversation about freelancers, and how the percentage of the workforce freelancing instead of working a regular full-time job with benefits is increasing.  Folks who lost their regular jobs started freelancing until they were able to get another regular job, but that other job never materialized.  While I don't plan to leave my regular full-time job with benefits anytime soon, it would be nice to know how to market myself; to know how to make money through other means.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I'd Rather Be Reading

One of the many benefits of working in a library is the quick access to free (for three weeks, at least) books.  Not only can I easily request a book I see mentioned in a blog post or magazine article, but I can also read this book on work time.  When it's late in the day, the branch is very slow, and all my other tasks are completed, I can actually read books and get paid for it!

But I don't do it often.  Even when we're extremely slow, there is constant interruption.  The phone rings.  Someone is checking out at the desk.  Anything that requires me to look up from my book takes me out of the story; and the current one I'm reading is a good one.  "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie" by Ayana Mathis is one of those books I can tell is great just by the first few pages.  Hattie is just seventeen when we meet her.   From page 5:

A grainy dawn misted up from the bottom of the sky.  Hattie closed her eyes and remembered the sunrises of her childhood--these visions were forever tugging at her; her memories of Georgia grew more urgent and pressing with each day she lived in Philadelphia.

Immediately engrossing with a narrative voice that's almost epic, this is the kind of book I want to disappear with for a day.  When I'm finished, I'll write a longer review.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


If 2012 was a time of changes--going full-time at the library, writing a first draft of a novel, becoming engaged--2013 will be a year of finishing what I started.

I intend to improve my skills at the library by either starting an MLS program or completing an internal program within our system.  Either would make me better at my job as well as a more valuable employee.

I intend to finish revisions and query the novel to agents.  I'm excited about the changes I'm making and hope they result in a successful book.   By "successful" I mean read by more than my friends and family.

Finally, and most importantly, I intend to become a good wife.  I want to be unselfish without losing sight of my individual aspirations.