Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A (Short!) Break in My Characteristic Sunny Optimism.

Forget the new project for a moment, I'm in agony here over the old one.

Before I tell about the agony, I just want to say that regardless of whatever happens, I already did the thing I've always wanted to do. Which is, I wrote a book. I've got a whole story. And, if I feel like it, I can leave the whole thing there. Done and check. Bucket-list item totally kicked.

It helped me the other day to remind myself of this reality. "I actually finished this, and I don't have to do anything with it ever again to make that more true."

But, of course, that's not me. I'll revise it and perfect it and take more feeback and get it as close to 100% right and perfect as it can be. Nothing's ever just finished. I both like and despise this enduring personal quality.

But anyway, I'm starting to understand why some writers refuse to let anyone they know IRL get eyes on their manuscripts. I've had some readers - my freelance editor and my critique group, and then some friends and family.

Here's what's happening: Everyone has different ideas about how to make it better. There's no consensus in the existing feedback from people who've read it front to back. Other people haven't finished it, and I just want to say: "Ok, you don't like it. That's awkard, but it's fine. Just stop reading, and let's move forward. Maybe my next book will be better!"

I sometimes do say this, and the friend is like, "Oh no, no! I like it! I mean, you did it! You wrote a book! I'm sorry, I'm totally going to finish it!" And that just makes me feel worse. Like forcing their way through the pages is a chore they have to complete out of loyalty to me. It's like the slow clap you might muster for the last-place finisher in a fun run. The ol', "Isn't is wonderful that she's out here?"

To be honest, I just want to cry a little. Put the book down. Go back to playing violin at a 7th-grade level. Remember my hobby before was playing violin? Although, at this point, it would take me a year or so to catch back up to the 7th-graders. It'd be me and the 4th graders in group lessons, and that might feel worse than being a mediocre wannabe novelist.

At least - at least! - I'm pretty good at my day job. We've always got middle school teaching to fall back on.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Writerly Wednesday: New Project Jitters

Well, I'm in an awkward stage with my own writing. I've "finished" my book. I'm calling it DETENTION these days, and "finished" really just means that I'm waiting for feedback and inspiration on how to change it for the zillionth time. I've have done some finagling in the first chapter in the last couple of weeks, and I think I'm finally moving in the right direction with those critical first pages. 

Of course, I sent the first draft of that new chapter to my sister and my mom before I'd really polished it. My sister said it was "choppy," and my mom wrote back with an entirely different idea for the opening. They were both right, so I tried it again. 

I'm pretty sure it's better now, but really, it could also be that I'm making the whole thing worse. No one actually knows at this point.

So, anyway, in times of limbo, it seems the only real thing to do let the first chapter in DETENTION rest and begin a new project. Everyone says this is the way to go. While you're waiting for critiques or querying agents or, if all goes well with those first two steps, out on submission to editors, you should write a new story.

Lucky for me, I have a new idea. I think I'm ready to outline it. Remember what I said about not retro-fitting a villain this time? I'm serious about that. The outline is coming first. I'm going to re-listen to a fabulous podcast called How Story Works and make sure Alice (remember Alice from #novelsnip? She's coming back, but she's becoming funny) hits all the marks. I think this'll make the whole process smoother - the drafting, the work with a developmental editor, the exchanging with the critique group, the copious revisions after all of that.

Maybe I can shrink the process from just over two years to just under? I'm excited to see.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Suffering in Silence

You might not have realized that I've been really working on my coping skills these last few weeks. It's been hard, and I've been soldiering on with very little sympathy.

Here's the story: two (TWO) of my closest pals at work have been out on leave. Robin has been gone for nine weeks already. First, she was waiting for her baby to be born, and now she's taking care of said baby. You know Robin and I actually teach a class together. We're co-teachers. So, now she's not here, and I'm still here. Plus, she's funny and nice, and she's my friend.

And not only that, Chadd, my neighbor down the hall and frequent hallway duty companion, also had a baby and went on paternity leave. He was gone for six (SIX) whole weeks. No hallway jokes, no talking about our novels in progress, no stealing each other's door stops and tape dispensers. Once again, he was gone, and I was still here.

Here's the deal, I totally support family leave. In fact, I wish we had more paid time available for workers to take care of their babies.

But (BUT) what about my loneliness and isolation?

Overall, I'm pretty proud of how I've handled this. I haven't even cried one time. However, today when Chadd came waltzing back into the building, I felt very happy. Fulfilled. Like things were once again right.

There might have been a group hug. They'll be an even bigger one when Robin gets back in two weeks. All together.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Status Update

What's happening now is I'm trying to write a synopsis of the novel. It's a 500-word description of everything that happens, focusing on the seven anchor scenes or the Hero's Journey or whatever.

Let me just say that next time I try to write a novel (I hope I'm going to do it again), I'll write this dastardly little document first. There will be one main character (not two, like I have now), and that main character will zip through her story, hitting every blasted one of these seven anchor scenes. It will be completely satisfying, and the whole thing will work.

There will be high stakes that I plot ahead of time. I won't find myself, for instance, standing in the gym with a colleague during recess duty trying to identify the villain after I've already written a hundred pages.

Because retro-fitting that villain was hard.

Writing the synopsis is also hard, okay?
The little paragraphs are dis-jointy.
It feels like I should have two different synopses.
I found another template that I think would work better for multiple characters.
Maybe I should start the synopsis over?
The doubt is creeping in while I write, like, one sentence per hour.
But doubtLESS, I'll have to re-write that one sentence a million times.

Luckily, this situation led me to the comfort of my blog. Maybe the blog will revive now that the novel is mostly done? That would please me. I hope that's what happens.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Best of 2017: Audio

This is it for book lists of 2017! The other book lists from this year and previous years are HERE. I listened to 14 audiobooks this year, fewer than I typically hear. I think the reason for that is my increasing interest in podcasts. In any case, I'm picking three audiobooks that shine in that format. Here they are in alphabetical order by author.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, narrated by Dominic Hoffman.
This is a collection of interconnected stories beginning with two half-sisters in 18th-century Ghana, unknown to one another and with vastly different fates. Each story moves a generation ahead from the boarding of the slave ships on the Gold Coast to present-day America. It's a hugely ambitious exploration of the legacy of slavery and perceptions of blackness. I'll be thinking about this for a long, long time. And, I'm amazed that the author was 26 years old. I'm having a few qualms about recommending the audiobook because it is hard to track the characters through these stories; however, I did like Hoffman's matter-of-fact delivery and the richness of his voice. There's a family tree on Wikipedia that would solve the character problem.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, read by the author.
These are engaging and sobering stories of The Daily Show host's growing up in South Africa during and after apartheid. Topics range from petty larceny to church-going to Noah's complicated relationship with his white father. Noah's mother becomes the throughline here, with the book beginning and ending with tributes to her strength.  I always love a book read by the author, and Noah's narration is excellent - funny, heartfelt, and brisk. It's also helpful to hear the stories, as so many words appear in various languages of South Africa - Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans - all of which he speaks. 

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, narrated by Mia Barron
Several of my friends have told me they didn't like this book, but I found it to be rather addicting. I had to know what happened to each of the characters, minor and major, as soon as possible. I'm really curious about how Sweeney put this together. There's so much backstory and "telling," but still the plot really moves. All loose ends resolved at the end in surprising ways. Barron's narration felt non-judgemental and curious in its own right. 

Here are the other audiobooks I listened to this year:
  • Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, narrated by Scott Brick. An excellent choice for a family road trip.
  • A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan, narrated by Julia Whelan. This was on my list of favorite fiction this year, and Julia Whelan has narrated several books I've enjoyed.
  • I Found You by Lisa Jewell, narrated by Helen Duff. I loved this mystery, but there was something off about the recording. Read it on paper.
  • Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz, narrated by Colleen Werthmann. I like the premise, but it's just too long.
  • Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall. I had to listen on 1.5 speed to get through it. There's just too much going on.
  • The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty, narrated by Heather Wilds. I love listening to Moriarty's books. This one centers on a quirky family, their secrets, and finding personal peace.
  • Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel, narrated by Carly Robins. A delightful story about a young woman's accidental foray into private school admissions. Funny, poignant, filled with (sadly) realistic portrayals of top-tier parents.
  • Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid, narrated by Julia Whelan. I loved this Sliding Doors-style dual love story in which we're left to ponder whether life is "meant to be" or "what we make it."
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin. On my favorite YA list. A really impressive novel of activism and coming-of-age.
  • The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, narrated by Imogen Church. A total trip. The audio kept me sublimely entertained while I painted my son's bedroom.
  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin, narrated by Karen White. The narration enhances the humor, especially of Rachel, one of four protagonists.
And that's it for book lists of 2017! I'm planning another post about my reading goals for 2018. I've got them, that's for sure!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Best of 2017: Nonfiction

I read 16 works of nonfiction this year. I'm pretty picky about nonfiction, so they were all pretty darn good. I do have five favorites, listed here in alphabetical order.

Back and Forth: Using an Editor's Mindset to Improve Student Writing by Lee Heffernan
I usually don't include professional texts for teachers in my list, but this year I can't help it because this book is a fave for sure. It's a book about how to position yourself as a teacher in writer's workshop for maximum engagement, revision, success, and pride in writing. Along the way, there are relatable tips for forging an excellent classroom community and a sense of authenticity. I love this book. If you're a literacy educator at any level, you will too.

You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein
Hilarious and on-the-nose essays from the writer and producer of The Amy Schumer Show. Topics range from the questionable fashion choices of middle school to the curious phenomenon of never feeling quite good enough. I felt like Klein was my pal, just another 40-something (Okay, I'm ALMOST 40) who wants to both do their best and also be cool.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
I loved this funny, charming, and true meditation on running and writing. Murakami captures how I feel about these two pursuits and also about most of the other things I do: it's a mix of compulsion and curiosity. There's always the next thing, and it's both a pleasure and responsibility to carry on. Shef read this one, too, and he also liked it.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
This is a collection of deeply affecting poetry, so yes, I'm cheating in the genre department. Rankine writes short poems depicting everyday moments in the speaker's life as a black woman. The aggression she bears piles up and each page feels heavier. Longer poems had my white jaw dropping, but they shouldn't have. I should be more aware and active.

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin
I loved this examination of habits - formation, motivation, keeping, breaking, catching, encouraging, enjoying. The conversational style appealed to me, and I also learned a lot about myself. Most stunning and obvious: not everyone is like me. In fact, most people aren't.

And here are the other ten titles! Need a different book list? HERE you go!

  • Blind Spot: The Hidden Biases of Good People - by Mahzarin Benaji and Anthony Greenwald
  • Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher - Carrie Fisher's fast, funny memoir about living a crazy life while trying her best. 
  • On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting by Thomas Guskey - It turns out I'm not doing everything right when it comes to assigning grades. Lots to think about.
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham - A middle-grade graphic novel about girl friendships.
  • Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear - I loved this inside look at a successful college running team, its iconic coach, and a deserving national champ.
  • Whereas by Layli Long Soldier - Long Soldier morphs clauses of treaties and conveys through wordplay, syntax, and metaphor her own experiences of displacement.
  • The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph Marshall This is a wonderful compilation of stories and collective memories about the Oglala Lakota leader and legend.
  • Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall - I liked parts of this book quite a lot, but overall, there was just too much going on.
  • Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton - Sometimes, I felt annoyed because it seemed manipulative, and sometimes I cried because I found it so honest and moving.
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah - Engaging and sobering stories of The Daily Show Host's growing up in South Africa during and after apartheid.
  • The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin - I tore through this detailed guide to her Four Tendencies framework - a study of how people respond to expectations.