Friday, March 20, 2015

Why I Went Indie -- Guest Post by Holly Schindler

My writing friend Holly Schindler has a new book out today--her first non-traditionally published novel, and her first in the category of what they call New Adult (a tad older and, sometimes, spicier than Young Adult-- for those not up on the lingo.) To celebrate her book launch, I let her take over my blog. SO, here's Holly Schindler:


FIFTH AVENUE FIDOS, a New Adult Romantic-Comedy, releases today, March 20—it will also be the first release from Holly Schindler, LLC.

With four traditional books out in the world (three YAs and one MG), and after having snagged a couple of starred reviews and won a few awards, I’ve been asked why I chose to go "indie."

FIFTH AVENUE FIDOS is a book that was originally inspired by my own dog, Jake, shortly after he came into my life…eleven years ago. It went on sub a few times; editors all indicated that the book was well done—a couple actually said, “This needs to be published”—but they just plain didn’t know what to do with it. Wasn’t YA, wasn’t adult. One editor said the book was “neither fish nor fowl.”

This was before New Adult had emerged, of course, but even after New Adult became a well-read genre / age category, FIDOS was still breaking the mold. It’s a sweet story (rather than sexy), and while Mable is nineteen when the book starts, she’s not in college, either. There’s a love scene, but it’s fade-to-black rather than steamy erotica. After New Adult came into being, editors were still holding onto the manuscript—it bounced between imprints at several houses, as editors struggled to find a place for it.

In the end, it just didn’t work. FIDOS does not fit the current traditional publishing platform. Which is what makes it a perfect fit for the indie world.

With the rise of hybrid authors, independent publishing no longer means “inferior.” There will always be books that don’t fit the traditional-publishing mold—just as FIDOS doesn’t. Authors have options.

As I continue to explore what’s possible in the independent world, I can indulge in projects (subjects, genres, etc.) that I couldn’t if I were to rely solely on traditional means of publication. And I can put the books out at my own pace, outside of traditional publishing seasons (an aspect that’s especially appealing when you’re a fairly quick writer).

I’m only at the beginning of my independent publishing journey—and there’s absolutely no predicting where, exactly, it will lead. But I CAN reveal that the next indie book I’ll be writing (I’m beginning to draft it now) is the NA sequel to my YA romance, PLAYING HURT. I’ll be announcing the release date through my newsletter; so be sure to sign up so you’ll know when you’ll be able to download the steamy new installment of Chelsea and Clint’s love story.

Holly Schindler and Jake

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Panicking over Poetry (otherwise known as the time I was a doofball and sabotaged my own dream)

When I was twenty-one and fresh out of college, I started an MFA in poetry at the University of Memphis. I spent an interesting year writing some poems. I got to meet a few cool visiting authors and poets.

I dropped out at the end of the year.

The end.

Flash forward 25+ years.

If you asked me, even a couple of weeks ago, about this small chapter in my past, I would've made light of it. I am not the kind of person who feels regret. I figure that things happen the way they happen and there's not much you can do about it now. The Year of Poetry always seemed kind of silly to me.

In fact, I used it in what I thought was a self-deprecating, humorous way in my official author bio:

See here for this nice snippet from the back flap of my first published novel:
Jody Casella majored in creative writing at Rhodes College and started an MFA at the University of Memphis. Then in a moment of fear at the sheer impracticality of being a poet, she quit writing, earned an MA, and started teaching...

Over the past few months I've been purging my house. It's been a fascinating and sometimes horrifying trip down memory lane. Opening closets and digging through the basement, the garage, the attic, is an excavation of the past. Stuff that fits well in other rooms, other houses, other periods of your life, but no longer fits the life you have now. Things you thought you should like-- a set of too fancy china. Pressed white tablecloths. Ha ha. I am not a pressed white table cloth kind of person. You have to IRON white tablecloths. And I don't iron. (PS. Adios to the freaking iron.)

All of this tripping down memory lane has got me revisiting past selves too. The Self, for example, who made the decision to quit the MFA in poetry.

When I lived in Lexington Kentucky, I worked as a teacher of academically gifted and talented 4th and 5th graders. My job was to formally identify kids in giftedness and create suitable challenging academic plans for them.

Something I know about academically gifted kids is that no matter how smart they are --and some of these kids were at the prodigy level -- they will eventually hit a wall. The barrier is something new-- an idea, a problem, an experience-- that does not come easily to them, something they have never seen before and can't immediately comprehend.

This is a scary encounter for a gifted kid. These kids have been told all of their lives how brilliant they are. So when they hit the Wall, they panic. They have no strategies for dealing with a challenge. I've seen kids burst into tears trying to work on a math problem. I watched a kid have a tantrum--the lying on your back/kicking on the floor kind-- when he couldn't understand how to fit together pentominos.

It seems ridiculous. But what's going on psychologically is the kid is calling into question everything she knows about herself. If she can't understand this stupid math equation, how smart is she after all? The trick is to teach kids how to work through frustration, how to tackle problems, how to practice-- when they've never had to do that before.

I taught these gifted kids for seven years. I watched some of them hit walls and freak out. I watched many hit the wall and find a way to go around it or knock the damn thing down. Most of the kids never hit a wall. But they would, eventually. And I told them and their parents to be prepared for the inevitable.

I never ever ever thought about any of this in relation to myself. I was not a gifted student when I was in school. I struggled daily through math and science classes. I had to study hard for tests in every subject. The only area where I excelled was writing. But that had nothing at all to do with school. I wrote on my own. Journals. Stories. Two novels before I was fifteen that I did not show a soul. The few people who knew what I was doing, said I was a good writer.

Writing was my talent. When I went to college, I majored in it and knew that I was one of the best writers in the school. My writing got very little criticism. And then, I started my year in the MFA in poetry program....

At first it seemed like I would glide along as I always had. The professor, a brilliant poet named Sharon Bryan, chose me as one of her first students to fill her brand new program. I got a scholarship-- full tuition. Plus, a decent stipend for being the managing editor of the literary magazine.

I shared an office with Sharon. The workshop classes went well. All praise for me-- no shock there-- I had talent, remember? But there was a bit of uncomfortable nudging. Sharon saw me "working" on my poems in the office we shared-- how I dashed them off in minutes before a class with minimal thought. How I never revised anything. When she gave me suggestions, I blew them off. The poems were perfectly fine the way I'd written them.

She pushed me in the other classes too. Analyzing poetry, dissecting line breaks and rhythm, figuring out how poems were put together and choices the writers made. I didn't always understand what was going on. I had to think about writing in a way that I'd never had to before. Papers that I was used to throwing together the night before, were suddenly things I had to tackle earlier, and possibly.. gasp.. revise.

University of Memphis was considered easy. The program, one of my previous professors told me, was beneath me. And there I was.. struggling. I was supposed to have this natural talent--writing was the ONLY thing about myself I was proud of, sure of, and suddenly I wasn't sure of it anymore.

So. I quit.

What the hell was I going to do with an MFA anyway? Teach poetry?? HA. What a silly job. And poetry. Jeez. What a ridiculous subject to focus on. Nobody even reads it. Was I really going to devote my life to writing little poems and hoping some literary magazine that has a circulation of like, 50, will publish one and possibly pay me 20 bucks?

Yeah. No thanks. Time to grow up, Jody and put away childish things. You want to be a writer? Well, regular people don't get to be writers. And you're not as good at it as you thought.

I didn't write another word for the next five years. Within a year, I was married and teaching high school English. My husband and I bought a house. We started our family.

Something I scrounged out of a closet recently was a folder of old grad school poems. They weren't bad, but I could immediately see how they could be better. The year I was at U of M, I worked harder than I ever had on my writing. I had some amazing experiences too. I had dinner with Seamus Heaney. I had a funny conversation with John Updike at a party. I met Richard Russo and WS Merwin and Marvin Bell and Barry Hannah and Pattiann Rogers.

What would have happened if I hadn't panicked and dropped out?

I'm not saying that I would've become a poet. Still, two more years of careful study on my writing, the interactions with classmates and teachers and visiting writers, the nudging, the pushing, the challenging-- it sure as hell couldn't have hurt me.

But I was the kid having the tantrum on the floor.

I don't have regrets. But man oh man, I wished there'd been someone there to scoop me up off the floor, dry my tears, and say, It's okay. You can figure this out. Listen, writing is your talent, and you are good at it,  but that doesn't mean you don't have to work on it too.

Get up. Climb the damn wall.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Excavating the Past --Also a word about 19th century outhouses in Cincinnati

The other day the guy at Goodwill scolded my husband and me. Apparently when you have a bunch of crap bigger items to drop off at one of their centers, the proper procedure is to park in the front, go inside and announce what you have, and then drive around to the back to unload.

My husband had done this the day before, but today we were trying to expedite the process and thought we'd just go directly to the back.

DO NOT DO THIS, PEOPLE. The guy expressed his annoyance with us several times, accompanied by weary sighs and exasperation at our not following the rules. The entire time we were unloading the back of a pickup truck-- a coffee table, a TV stand, a computer desk, five garbage bags of clothing and toys and games-- we apologized to him for his generosity.

"Okaaaaay," the guy said, as he helped us cart the stuff inside, "we'll take it this time, but next time..." his voice trailed off and husband and I apologized once more.

Then we got back into the truck and burst out laughing. Barred from donating to Goodwill. Is that a thing? Well, whatever. There are other Goodwills in this city, buddy.

What began as a half-day project to dust the book shelves in my office has turned into a complete excavation of every single item in our house. Do we WANT this thing? Do we LOVE it? Do we USE it? Maybe we liked it once but we can't remember why and now it's just taking up space... Maybe it was a gift we never liked but thought we should?

Absolutely everything is on the table both literally and figuratively--including the table.

We are ruthless. Pulling stuff out of a closet and chucking it into bags without a second thought except annoyance at ourselves for keeping these things.


We are slow and weepy. Look. Our son made this when he was in kindergarten. Our daughter carried this little purse around when she was four. Oh!! My grandmother wrote me this letter. My aunt made me this doll when I was a child. My husband wore this shirt on our honeymoon. I used to love this dress so hard but couldn't fit into it now to save my life, also my daughter now informs me that it is hideous.

There are decisions to be made about every single thing: Trash? Recycle? Goodwill? Keep-- but if you keep it, where do you put it?

I read somewhere that these items are called touchstones. The moment you unearth them, the moment you turn them over in your hands, you have the story, the memory, the emotion. These items are haunted in a sense, by loss (my grandmother made this quilt!) by grief (my child chewed on this toy and now he is in college and that baby he was is lost forever) by love  and joy and weirdly, fear.

It's hard to let go of things. Take the computer desk dumped off at Goodwill the other day. To the objective eye, it is nothing but a piece of cheaply made furniture. Decent condition. Still has some use. But I know where we bought it (Target) and when-- two houses ago when we lived in Lexington, KY. I know that we had it set up in our den by the window and it held the only computer in our house. Our son played video games at that desk and our daughter typed out little stories. I wrote a book sitting at that desk.

When we hauled it up from the basement, where it was now gathering dust and half begged Goodwill to take it from us, we were cutting a small cord to the past.

My wise friend Deb says that excavating our house as we have been doing, giving things away and throwing stuff out, making decisions about what to keep and what to cut loose-- is a way of accepting our own mortality. We hold onto things because they have become extensions of us. Parting with them is parting with pieces of ourselves.

We live with this illusion that we will live forever, that we can gather and collect and buy and take in households of things forever. We stuff things in our closets and our dresser drawers and cabinets and basements and attics. Some people rent storage lockers to hold the things that won't fit inside their homes because they can't bear to part from them. I have a relative who only gives friends her things so she can still visit them from time to time.

In the end, we can't take any of it with us. And those things that hold even the smallest hint of value, of memory, of emotion, return to merely being things.

Someone will buy that computer desk at Goodwill and will have no idea where it came from, who it came from. Someone will pick up the handmade doll. The lovingly sewn quilt. Old pictures still in their frames and say Who are these people? 


If they say anything at all, it will be Who WERE these people?

There's an awesome exhibit in the Cincinnati Museum Center:the items found in an excavated outhouse from the 19th century. A team of anthropologists discovered the old privy and carefully dug into it, dusting off items in the careful way you imagine they'd dig up dinosaur bones or Native American pottery shards. There's a display at the museum of the items from the outhouse, organized by layer. Those found out at the bottom and preserved in --ugh, I guess, calcified human waste?--- are the oldest.

(Peeking into the Privy Hole) 

Weird things. Bits of china, children's toys, forks, medicine bottles, toothbrushes.

You look at the stuff and think: how the hell did that get thrown down into an outhouse hole? Kids playing with marbles while they did their business. People brushing their teeth and eating? Things accidentally dropped? Can't you imagine a kid dropping a toy and having a tantrum about it? Or maybe some of things were thrown in purposely. Damn it, Millie, I always hated this china from your mother!! Or, oh my GOD I broke Millie's mother's heirloom china saucer. Let me throw it down the toilet hole before she finds out.

There are stories behind these things. But we will never know the stories. People owned the dishes. Used the toothbrushes. Loved the toys. Hated the medicine bottles. Now none of it has any meaning at all except for anthropologists and museum goers.

Those 19th century people let go of their things.

And now it is our time to let go...

For the record, (and for tax purposes) the list so far of things Goodwill has graciously allowed us to give them, in no particular order:

20 pillows
2 chairs
1 set of Polly Pockets
11 pictures
1 pitcher
3 jewelry boxes
13 scarves
2 sets curtains
3 child's purses
assorted stuffed animals
6 hats
1 sweat jacket
1 woman's coat
1 lamp shade
6 wicker baskets
1 small refrigerator
1 mirror
1 radio/cd player
18 candle holders
2 sugar bowls
1 harmonica
25 games
2 baseball mitts
2 guitars from Guitar Hero game
1 queen-sized comforter set
1 double sized comforter
1 double sized sheet set
1 area rug and rug pad
2 computer keyboards
assorted jewelry
2 computer desks
3 hand towels
5 wash cloths
5 T-shirts
25 teen shirts
4 blouses
9 sweaters
1 dog sweater
2 dresses
1 pajamas
2 dolls
12 mugs
1 jump rope
1 TV stand
1 coffee table
1 tape recorder
1 pair of jeans
1 wine container
1 table runner
1 pair ski pants
1 tea towel
1 beer mug
8 pants
2 art supply sets
10 pairs of shorts
1 Barbie
104 books
9 candles
1 bowl of beaded fruit
2 watches
1 baseball hat
1 backpack
3 piano books
2 wallets
5 bracelets
3 headbands
4 canvas bags
1 bikini
5 pairs of socks
1 keychain
2 watches
2 calculators
14 knick knacks
12 puzzles
1 ten-foot computer cord
1 wooden plate
1 glass cheese plate
1 glass plate
2 trays
2 end tables
1 cd holder
1 electric mattress pad
1 shin splint
1 Vera Bradley bag
1 filing cabinet
1 sofa table
2 lamps
1 stapler
3 bathroom rugs
2 easter egg trees
1 baseball bat
1 baseball glove
1 deviled egg tray
1 rain poncho
12 pairs of shoes
5 videos
1 nightlight
2 soap dispensers
1 glass vase
1 silver thermos
4 fake plants
2 bookends
3 sculptures
1 tablecloth
7 cloth napkins
3 sweatshirt
2 bar stools
1 laundry sorter
1 bolt of material
1 cake stand
1 metal hot plate
1 nativity set
1 queen sized sheet set
3 blankets
1 quilt
3 twin sized sheet sets
1 graduation gown (sorry, Ben!)
11 pillow cases

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Found in Translation

I took a poetry translation class in graduate school. It was a requirement for my degree program that students demonstrate fluency in a foreign language.

The problem was I didn't have a fluency in a foreign language.

When I was in high school I took four years of Latin but I graduated unable to write or understand much of Latin beyond veni vidi vici. (For the record, that means "I came. I saw. I conquered." and supposedly Julius Caesar said it after he came and saw and conquered something.)

For my undergraduate degree there was a foreign language requirement too. The college would waive the requirement if you passed a language test. Since I'd had four years of Latin, the college signed me up to take the test. I panicked. There was no way in hell I was going to pass. I would flunk at an embarrassing level and probably my acceptance to the college would be revoked. 

My only option was to take another language. I signed up for Spanish, which seemed like a more useful and practical language to know than Latin. This time around I was determined to learn the language. I took five semesters and spent a lot of time  memorizing vocabulary words and verb endings, but I would not have called myself fluent.

My definition of fluent is that when you go on your honeymoon to a Spanish-speaking country, you ask for directions to the bathroom and the old guy who is selling ceramic cups directs you to the bathroom, instead of nodding and squinting at you... and handing you a ceramic cup.

Which is how I ended up in the poetry translation class in graduate school.

This seems funny to me now. I couldn't ask where the baƱo was, and yet, I was going to prove my fluency by translating Spanish poetry into English. 

What I learned in my poetry translation class is that the act of translation is difficult even when you are fluent in both languages. The translator has to take into account all kinds of things we don't normally think about as readers. She's not doing word for word translation, which is how beginners in a foreign language think about translation. She has to make choices. 

If a poem is written in rhyme, for example, should the translator keep that aspect-- even if that means something else will be lost? Words in poems are specifically chosen by the poet. Often they have double or triple meanings. How can the translator ensure that the translated poem works on all of the same levels as the original poem? 

(Did you know there are companies that exist
to help you translate your content into other languages?
Me neither. Until I found Smartling, 
a company that translates websites.)

In the poetry translation class we would analyze several translations of a particular poem and compare them. Sometimes they were subtly different. Sometimes they were very different. The translators were not invisible messengers; they were active participants in the writing process. And sometimes they got it wrong. 

I can assure you that I got it wrong in my poetry translation class. I did my assignments with my Spanish-to-English dictionary splayed out in front of me. I knew it was a hopeless, futile endeavor because I could barely read the poem, much less understand the subtle variations of meanings, the rhythm, the evocation of imagery.

To translate, you have to crawl into the mind of the writer. You have to think in the language. You have to dream in it.

I never looked at translation the same way after taking that class. I know that no translation of a piece of literature is perfect. But I also know that without the translation, the piece would not be available to many readers at all.

I never reached fluency in Spanish, but I got a little closer to understanding it through my kids. When they were young (which is when languages are easier to learn) my husband and I enrolled them in a Spanish immersion school. Beginning on the very first day of kindergarten, their native Spanish language teacher, spoke to them only in Spanish.

Some days after I'd dropped them off, I'd linger in the doorway for a few minutes and listen to the teacher speaking. She stood in front of the class and jumped around a lot, pantomiming what she was saying, talking slowly, singing songs, repeating words and phrases over and over.

The students jumped around too, mimicking the teacher's movements, singing, dancing, repeating what she said.

It seemed like a fun way to learn a language.

Also, they learned very quickly how to ask to go to the bathroom.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

In Which I Excavate My Life and Discover the Secret of Time Travel

My quest to clean out my office, which led to a shedding of unread books from my bookshelves, which led to a shedding of pictures I never liked and knick-knacks that serve no point except to gather dust, which led to a giant Goodwill-designated pile on my dining room table...

which led to my decision to get rid of my dining room table-- that quest continues.

Over the past week I have taken three carloads of stuff to Goodwill. Fake plants and no longer used glassware and lamps and end tables and clothes and shoes and more books. Each time I am afraid the Goodwill volunteer is judging me and judging my stuff and one of these trips he's going to say, No more, lady. We're through taking stuff from you. 

If that happens, I will have to find another Goodwill.

I've been wandering around the house, shining a spotlight on things I haven't looked at in years. Instruments the kids no longer play. Candlesticks I don't use. An ugly wall hanging that matched better in an old house and never looked right on the wall in this new house, and yet it's been hanging on the wall anyway for seven years. 

Yesterday, my goal was to clear out my office closet and that morphed into emptying the entire linen closet in the hallway and discovering that we own nine extra pillows and multiple sheet sets for double beds. (For the record, we don't have double beds.) 

I am excavating our lives. 

Opening drawers that I never open and peering into closets. I am finding old pieces of my life and hurtling back into time and sometimes I like going back, and sometimes I want to slam the door and forget what I've found. 

Why do objects hold so much power? 

Why does one glimpse send me into a tailspin of emotion? 

Why did I hold onto these things? 

How can I let them go? 

Yesterday I found a viking ship collecting dust on my closet shelf.

I see the viking ship, and I am like Harry Potter dunking my head into Dumbledore's Pensieve. I fall under the surface of the "viking ship as object" and SEE

my little boy, age 3. Insatiably curious and talkative and brilliant and every day wanting to know everything and asking me a never-ending stream of questions until I think I might lose my mind.

I see a book from the library on Vikings. I see me reading it to my little boy and I see us making the viking ship. He paints the boat and I make the 26 tiny toothpick paddles and fit the whole thing together. 

I see us at the counter in a house we lived in several houses and several states ago. My little boy's sister is sitting on the floor playing with a drawer full of plastic bracelets. While I stick the flag onto the viking ship, she slips the bracelets on her arm and then holds her arm out and admires herself.  

All the while Scooby Doo is on TV or Zooboomafoo or Reading Rainbow. 

I am home alone with these two little kids and we have just moved from out of state and I know no one and I want so much to be a good mother, the kind that reads books to her kids and makes elaborate crafts projects with them and cooks them nutritious meals and answers every single question they have. 

And NOT the kind of mother who feeds her kids hotdog chunks and puts the TV on all day, who craves adult conversation and sometimes hides in the bathroom to have five minutes of quiet away from incessant little voices and plastic beads and Scooby Doo laughing like the idiot dog that he is. 

The viking ship is a stunning achievement of mom and son bonding and enjoyment and love. 

And at the same time, it is a symbol of extreme motherly boredom and stunted blunted creativity that has no outlet except in meticulously crafting 26 oars out of toothpicks like a obsessive compulsive loon. 

When we are finished making it, my son and I, his little sister looking on with wide eyes and draped in plastic bracelets, we place it carefully on a shelf in his bedroom. It moves with us to another house and another house always displayed in my son's bedroom until somewhere along the way, after another move, my son is doing a purge of his own, and says he doesn't want the viking ship anymore. 

He does not remember making it, except in only the vaguest sense. He does not remember being three year old. And his baby sister does not remember draping her arms with plastic bracelets. 

I put the viking ship in my closet on a high shelf because I am cannot bear to part from it, because I cannot bear to let go of the memory of Scooby Doo and hotdog chunks. 

I cannot bear to part with a long ago self and place and life. 


Or maybe ever. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

In Which I Do a Social Media Detox, Quit Reading Books, and Rediscover My Loathing for My Dining Room Table

Week Four of The Artist's Way is a killer.

You're not allowed to read. 

No books. No newspapers. No magazines. No backs of cereal boxes. Nothing. For someone who is pretty much a reading addict, this particular assignment fills me with horror. I make a living --(and I use the word "living" in a metaphorical sense) by writing books. So, reading books is my job. And telling me not to read books is like telling me not to breathe air. 

Side note: I am doing this course called The Artist's Way, a twelve week set of exercises that is supposed to help you rediscover your creative self. I went through the course seven years ago and as loony-tunes as it seemed to me at the time, IT WORKED. See here. 

The first time I went through Week Four, I thought I was going to die not being allowed to read for a week. But funny thing: back then I was not on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Instagram. I did not spend hours answering emails and reading blog posts and scrolling around online. Social media did not exist when Julia Cameron designed the exercises for The Artist's Way, but I have to think that when she says No Reading, she also means No Tweeting or Facebooking or emailing. 

The whole point of Reading Deprivation is to take a break from consuming other people's words, to control what we allow in. "Our reward," Julia Cameron says, "will be a new outflow. Our own art, our own thoughts and feelings will begin to nudge aside the sludge of blockage, to loosen it and move it upward and outward until once again our well is running freely."

Yeah yeah, whatever, Julia. Bring it. 

Last Sunday night I signed off all of my accounts. Goodbye Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and Instagram. Adios blog posts and Yahoo news. So long BOOKS.  My husband was out of town. When I talked to him on the phone, I told him I was ready for my week of reading deprivation. My prediction was that without my constant farting around online, I'd get a ton of work done on my latest writing project, which honestly, I had been slogging through and not enjoying all that much anymore.   
Also, I would clean the house.

Day One: 

Because I don't check email or read the crap news of the day, I feel peaceful and happy and oblivious. I clean the breakfast dishes directly after breakfast. I walk the dog. I write for most of the day. When my daughter gets home from school, she is greeted by the enticing smell of freshly baked chocolate chip scones. Yay! This is fun! I am Miss Productivity! 

I don't miss reading until I get into bed. It's my habit to read a book at night and to scroll once more through all of my various forms of social media. I am stricken. What do I do? 

I solve this problem by rereading the chapter about Not Reading in The Artist's Way and go to sleep happily. 

Day Two:

I have no idea what's going on in the world or what my friends on Facebook or on Twitter are doing and I am okay with that because after I finish my day's writing, I'll be busy cleaning my office. 

Later, as I am taking books off the bookshelves, I realize that I don't want all of these books. Some are books that I read and didn't like and never plan to read again. Some are books that I haven't read and admit I never will. 

And come to think of it, what about the books on the bookshelves in other parts of my house? The ones gathering dust in my bedroom? The ones on the shelves in the living room? The ones piled in the bathrooms and next to my bed?

I don't want some of those either. 

I make a vat of homemade lentil soup. My daughter informs me that she does not like lentil soup.

The aromatic sofrito base of my lentil soup

Day Three:

My dining table is covered with books.

My office is a disaster area. Thinking about what books I really want and don't really want has made me question everything in the room. Why do I have these curtains? These beads hanging in the closet that my daughter hung when this was her bedroom annoy the hell out of me. And I never liked this rug. It's ugly. 

Day Four:

I sneak a peek at email and realize that I am not as important as I thought I was. I suspect the worlds of Twitter and Facebook are rolling along just fine without me too. I am both saddened and relieved. 

My daughter's home sick from school. She's watching a Dance Moms Marathon. I have never watched this show and immediately begin to mock it. Three hours later I am still mocking it, while my ailing daughter snoozes on the couch beside me. 

I pull down the curtains in my office. I throw out the closet beads. I roll up the rug. I eat the hell out of leftover lentil soup.

I write my ass off. 

Day Five:

Daughter's home sick again and I am secretly happy so I can watch Dance Moms with her. I eye the cluttered dining room table with despair. In addition to books, I've now added pictures I've always hated, clunky bookends that I refuse to put back on my pristine organized bookshelves, various ceramic cats from that time in my life when I thought it would be fun to collect ceramic cats, stupid plastic plants that exist only to gather dust, and a bunch of shoes I haven't worn in years.

I don't want these cats.

I eat leftover lentil soup.

I realize that I don't like a lot of the things I have in my house. Some stuff's kinda neutral and pointless. A gift that's not my style. A thing that has no meaning or purpose. Other stuff has a halo of negative connotation surrounding it. Gifts with strings attached. Or worse, guilt. Ugly things I used to like but can't remember what the hell I was thinking. Plastic fruit covered with beads? Why do I have these things? 

That's it. They're going on the dining room table. 

I write and write and write. 

Day Six:

I don't like the dining room table. Truth be told, I loathe it. There. I said it. 

I have an epiphany. What has been blocking me in my writing project is that I have been holding onto an earlier version of the story. Once I decide that I can let it go, I feel a surge of energy and excitement. I know what to do now. 

The entire dining room is filled with things to give away, including the dining room furniture. 
My daughter and I are watching Dance Moms when my husband calls from the airport on his way home. 

"How was your week?" he asks.

"Pretty good," I tell him. 

Day Seven:

My husband and I walk around the house together expressing our loathing and love for a quarter century's worth of accumulated stuff. I head up to my office to tackle a file cabinet. My husband begins to excavate the basement. 

I work a bit more on my book. I love it again. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Inspiring Blogger Award

YAY! I won an award! WOO HOO!

It's an award for blogging as you may have caught from the title above.

Side note: I love blogging. I started this blog a little more than four years ago because I'd gone to a writing conference and one of the sessions was about creating a brand for yourself and getting your name Out There and this all seemed like something I MUST DO AT ONCE. Very quickly into the process I realized that I didn't have a brand or want a brand and I didn't even know what the word brand meant exactly.

Also, it was going to be very very hard to get my name Out There when only like, four people were reading my blog, and those four people were my mother, my husband, and a couple of my friends.

Weirdly, I realized that I liked blogging despite the low readership. I'd been writing for a long time and I had this vision that the Me of 15 years before would appreciate the wisdom and experience and all around coolness of the present/future me.

I wanted to give back, I guess you could say. Help other struggling writers like that beginner me who were on the same often weary, mostly solitary journey to publication.

I thought I'd have a book deal in a few weeks and I was planning to gush about that on the blog. Instead, I ended up chronicling the next three years of NO book deals. Of rejections and angst and yearning and making peace and redoubling my efforts and failure and finally making peace again. And then I got the book deal.

Ha ha.

When I was teaching high school English and many days looking out a classroom of bored, sometimes overtly hostile students, I'd imagine that there was one kid who was listening and for that one kid, I threw my heart into the lesson.

That's sorta how I look at this blog. I've still got my four loyal readers (Thanks, MOM! Thanks hubby and friends) and a handful of others who've continued to read these posts, and I thank you all too. One of these lovely readers tagged me for this award.

Okay. It's not really an award. Maybe more of a Tag You're It chain-letter-y kind of thing. But you know what? I'll take it. Thanks Susan Brody over at The Art of Not Getting Published for tagging me and now I am going to pay it forward by:
1. displaying the award on my blog
2. linking back to the person who nominated me
3. stating 7 things about myself AND
4. nominating a few of MY favorite bloggers

Seven Things About Me:

1. I just got back from an awesome visit to St. Paul where I sat in on brilliant lectures and readings and discussions at Hamline University's MFA in Children's Literature program. I was there mostly to support my writing friend Donna who is a student in the program and was presenting her critical essay: "Psychic Distance in Non-Fiction Picture Books." (She did an awesome job.) 

2. While I was at Hamline, I met E. Lockhart, Anne Ursu, Jane Resh Thomas, and Laura Ruby! Later, I ate dinner with Carrie Mesrobian and Justina Ireland!  

3. I want to go back to school!! I forgot how much I love being a student, and this glimpse into the MFA program reminded me. I like taking notes and listening to writers speak about the writing process and the craft of writing. I like hanging around with people who like talking about books. 

4. I like listening to Carrie Mesrobian talk about sex and other stuff that was on her mind. For example: furniture. 

5. The only downside of the trip was I missed my dog. I missed my husband and daughter too, but they seemed totally fine--even a little giddy to be rid of me for a few days-- but my dog, my sweet Zooey--was the one I most worried about. 

Yeah. I can't believe I just shared that either. 

But look: 
(That's Zooey a few minutes after I came home. See how stunned and happy she is to see me? Please don't leave me again, Mom. Please please please is what she's saying there.)

I forgot what I was talking about. 

Oh yeah, number 6 about me. I wrote a book called Thin Space. But yadda yadda ya. 

I love that book, don't get me wrong, and I love that I wrote it and it was published and it's sitting on library shelves, but now I want to write another book and another book and another. 

7. I also have a cat.

(This is Zelda. She may have missed me too.
Or not.
It's hard to say)

And now here are a few of my favorite blogs:

*The Art of Not Getting Published. This blog is funny and smart and written by a writer who I am sure will one day be published and then she will have to change the name of her blog. Read it and you'll find a variety of good stuff about books and traveling and art and the law. (The writer is an attorney.) 

*Rachel Writes Things. I've been following this blog for a while. First, because I like the book reviews. Second, because many of the posts are about the writer's publishing journey. It's been very cool to watch her talk about the book she's been writing, and recently she's caught the eye of an agent. Next step, book deal. Crossing my fingers, Rachel...

*Mary Cronk Farrell's blog. I met Mary at a conference and then read her riveting book Pure Grit, the true story of American nurses who were taken prisoner during World War Two. Somewhere in there I signed up for Mary's newsletter, which links to her blog. Every few weeks I get an inspiring email that features the story of a historical or modern day hero.

*Stacked. This is THE blog you must follow if you love reading YA books. Two librarians, Kelly and Kimberly, write book reviews and analyze trends in book publishing and point out all kinds of cool--sometimes uncomfortable observations-- about teens and reading and life itself. 

And for a dash of fun, there's my new favorite,
*Carrie Mesrobian's Conversations with My Fake Boyfriend. If you're a writer and you're procrastinating, check out the conversations Carrie REALLY had with one of her fake boyfriends. Guaranteed to make you smile.

PS: Before you go about your day, I leave you with this lovely picture of ice circles drifting upon a Minnesota river: