Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Battling the Yips


For the past few weeks I've been slogging through my day's writing work-- NO, I DO NOT HAVE writer's block, maybe more like writer's cube if that is a thing. Anyway, each day, as a reward for completing my goals, I've been listening to the Fresh Air podcast.

I love tuning in to hear interviewer Terry Gross talk to actors, artists, directors and authors. The app is cool because you can skip around and choose the episodes you want to listen to. 

I almost skipped today's episode: The 'Phenomenon' That Changed MLB Pitcher Rick Ankiel's Life because I never heard of Rick Ankiel and I'm not much of a baseball fan. But before I could turn it off and switch to another episode, the interview started. Rick Ankiel, apparently, used to be this awesome pitcher and now he's got a new book out, a memoir called Phenomenon. 

When he was only twenty years old, people were raving about how good he was and he knew it. He skipped past college and signed a million dollar contract to pitch in the major leagues. It looked like he was on the road to having a great career, but suddenly, during a playoffs game, he threw the ball and it didn't feel right. 

He had this nightmare game, unable to control his pitches, the ball shooting off in random directions, and all of this happening on live TV, with announcers commenting about it and the crowd booing him. When the game was over, he told himself it was a fluke thing and figured that with a rest, he'd be back to normal. 

But he wasn't. 

He couldn't seem to throw the way he had before. He tried everything he could think of to fix the problem. Going back to the mechanics, he called it. Practicing. Watching what other pitchers were doing and trying to copy them. Resting. He couldn't tell if this was a real physical issue, he said, or maybe it was the yips. 

(the yips?? This was me, listening to podcast and wondering what the heck the yips were. A pause here, while I looked it up:

The yips is the loss of fine motor skills in athletes. The condition occurs suddenly and without apparent explanation usually in mature athletes with years of experience.)

Back to poor Rick Ankiel... 

The yips were destroying his life.

He lost his place in the majors and was dropped back down to the lower levels, whatever they're called in baseball, until he finally ended up on some rookie team, all the while his anxiety about his inability to pitch building and building. He'd drive around watching little kids play baseball and think about how easy they made it look and wondered why he couldn't do it anymore.

Baseball, he said, had been his thing. He'd grown up in a messed up family, his father abusing his mother and eventually going to jail. Baseball was the one thing he really did well. It was his refuge. His escape.

And now here he was hitting this weird psychological wall.

On the farm team, he performed okay. No TV spotlight. No one commenting on his performance for the most part, but he was unhappy. Whatever joy he'd once gotten from baseball seemed gone, and after awhile he decided to quit the game. 

Which is when a funny thing happened.

His agent suggested he start playing again in another position. This (I guess?) is not the typical career path of a baseball pitcher? but Rick Ankiel thought about it and said he could envision himself hitting a home run and just the thought of that made him feel excited again. 

He became an outfielder and a good one. He hit 47 home runs before retiring to spend more time with his family and write his memoir. 


So, anyway, this is why I decided today that I am going to quit writing.

Nah. I'm just joking with you. I don't have the yips

I don't have the yips

I don't have the yips.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Ode to the IKEA Catalog

In this world
everything is sleek surfaced and brightly lit,
an array of welcoming rooms
where women dance in kitchens
and children lick wooden spoons
and a man tells us to embrace what's wrong
as he garnishes the clams with garlic
and lemon.

In this world everything has its place.

The children put away their toys
and your friends come to dinner early
and always always help you
bake the meatballs.

They say we can make things better.
They say the days of "have to" are over.
They say that playtime can happen anywhere.

And we want to believe them.

We do.

So we set the sofa in the center of the living space.
We move our backyard inside.

We arrange and arrange and arrange, finding beauty
in a tealight holder
in a bed canopy
in a plant pot
in a clear lacquered bamboo knife tray.








Tuesday, April 11, 2017

An Interview with Mindy McGinnis


I’m thrilled to have award-winning YA writer Mindy McGinnis On the Verge this week. Mindy, if you haven’t read her yet, (and if you haven’t, I’m not sure why!) is the prolific genre-bending author of the dystopian Not a Drop to Drink, the gothic historical A Madness So Discreet (which won the Edgar Award), and the dark contemporary The Female of the Species, (hands down, one of the best books I read last year).


And now she’s got a new book out, the fantasy Given to the Sea. Last weekend Mindy and I caught up at the Ohioana Book Festival and I had the chance to ask her all of my burning questions.

----------------------------------------------------


Jody: On a recent panel you talked about where your ideas come from. Not a Drop to Drink you had an image of a girl holding a gun and A Madness So Discreet started with your interest in the old insane asylum in Athens, Ohio. I’m curious about your new book—which is the first fantasy you’ve written—about the inhabitants of a dying island world.

Mindy: In a lot of ways Given to the Sea is a montage of many different thoughts that have come to me over a period of fifteen or twenty years.

The first scene that ever occurred to me was a star-crossed lovers type of situation, with an Ivanhoe-esque turn with the female refusing to cave to her own desires to be with the male, to the point that she's willing to pitch herself from a window to save her pride. That scene doesn't actually exist in the book now, but it planted the seed that told me I wanted to write a fantasy.

A combination of many things came together for everything else: an interest in Huntington's disease (also called the "dancing sickness"), the idea of genetic memory, and rising sea levels.

Jody: It just occurred to me that the rising sea level idea is the flip side of your first book. Not A Drop to Drink was a world with no water, and here, with this new book, you’ve got a world with too much water… Was the process for writing these books the same?

Mindy: My process is always the same. I sit down and write the book.

Jody: You make it sound easy.

Mindy. Not easy, but you just do it. With this book I thought I had all kinds of freedom because I was building a fantasy world.

Jody: So, you're thinking anything goes...

Mindy: Except it doesn’t. You have to keep track of your own rules that you're making, because you made them in the first place.

Jody: And sometimes you write yourself into a corner. What do you do when that happens? Any tricks you can share?

Mindy: I think a lot while I'm driving. I live in the middle of nowhere so if I'm on my way to an event I've usually got at least an hour each way, and the drive might give me some room to sort things out.

Jody: You've recently started writing full time. Has that changed how you write?

Mindy: It's harder to make myself write. Before I was on a very tight timetable. If I had twenty free minutes, then I needed to crack out some words. Now, I've got all day... and I know it. I'm learning how to budget my time better, which is weirdly harder when you have more of it.

Jody: What kinds of scenes or stories do love writing most and least? 

Mindy: I love writing biting dialogue, insults, stuff like that. Least, action scenes. Writing a battle scene and trying to keep it as "realistic" as possible while still making it thrilling and fun is challenging.

Jody: You write in different genres... from dystopian to gothic historical fiction to contemp, and now fantasy-- what makes a Mindy McGinnis book a Mindy McGinnis book—besides the fact that at least one of the characters is probably going to die?

Mindy: That, and a definite layer of grit and realism overlying everything. That's my approach with any genre. If this WERE going to happen, how would it unfold? No drama. No fuss. Just, give this thing some room and see what happens. Usually nothing good, because it's a McGinnis. :)

Jody: This is on a totally different note, but I know you've launched a podcast recently. What got you interested in that?

Mindy: I started listening to podcasts while I was running, and I started on the high end of production value - Serial, This American Life, Cracked, etc. I burned through those and started listening to others that were suggested to me and, most of the time, was not impressed. I thought to myself, "I could do better than that." Then I thought I should put my money where my mouth was.

So I did, literally. It's a time investment for me, since one of my biggest complaints about other podcasts was that they needed heavy editing (lots of filler, dead space, inside jokes, side rants).

Jody: And your podcast doesn’t--

Mindy: I don't make my listeners listen to anything I wouldn't want to hear.

Jody: I'm guessing there's some money involved. 

Mindy:  For hosting and distribution. I'm hoping to at least break even with it, if not make it financially productive, by the end of one year (I paid for one year of hosting up front). If it's not lifting its own weight by then, I'll have to pull the plug. At the moment I spend more time on the podcast than I do on my writing, which economically makes zero sense.

Jody: True. But hey, what does make sense in this business?

*(Check out one of Mindy's podcasts Here)

Okay, time for the lightning round. What kinds of things do you do for fun?

Mindy: Oh, God. I'm such a geek. Genealogy. Seriously. I found an ancestor (female) that I'd been looking for for ten years a few weeks ago and I almost cried. I also love old cemeteries and will just stop the car and go visit one if I see one that looks interesting to me.

Jody: Last good book you've read?

Mindy: Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

Jody: TV show you've binged?

Mindy: Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I'm catching up!

Jody: What's up next for you?

Mindy: Given to the Sea will have a sequel (it's a duology) in the Spring of 2018, titled Given to the Earth. I have another contemporary, This Darkness Mine coming October 10th of 2017 from Katherine Tegen Books.

Right now I'm working on a story I'm mentally referring to as "Drunk Hatchet With A Girl," about a teen lost in the Appalachian region.

I'm sure marketing will retitle that.

Jody: Probably. But wouldn't it be awesome if they didn't? Hey Mindy, thanks so much for chatting with me today! And dear readers, if you'd like to know more about the dark and brilliant mind of Mindy McGinnis, see below:

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Mindy McGinnis is an Edgar Award-winning author and assistant teen librarian who lives in Ohio. She graduated from Otterbein University with a degree in English Literature and Religion, and sees nothing wrong with owning nine cats. Two dogs balance things out nicely.

Where to find her: 

Where to find her books: 




Friday, March 31, 2017

I don't have writer's block I don't have writer's block I don't have writer's block I don't have

writer's block.

I write these words in tiny script so as not to give them more power.

writer's block

I know what I am supposed to do:

Write.

Put my butt in the chair each day, regardless of whether or not I am feeling inspired, and write. Let the story go where it wants to go without forcing it. Set down some words. Any words. Don't put pressure on myself to make it perfect. It's about quantity not quality, or so says Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way.

And I want to believe Julia. (I do!) But still, no matter how hard I fight it, sometimes my critical inner editor, my demanding annoying former English teacher/perfectionist self takes over and I am floundering once again in Writer's Block land

Writers' guides are filled with helpful advice on how to tackle writer's block. 

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic speaks soothingly to writers, cooing in our ears to be gentle with ourselves. Frustration is part of the process, she whispers. Creativity is wonderfully difficult and you're doing the best you can. There, there, sweetie.

Steven Pressfield in War of Art takes the opposite approach, shouting like a drill sergeant at us to fight Resistance with everything we've got. Quit whining about how tough it is, soldier! Park your lazy ass at your desk and get to work, damn it!

Daily, sometimes hourly, I pinball between the two opposite poles of Liz and Steve. I show up at my desk with the best of intentions. Set a word count goal. Set a timer. Pound out my words with a sledge hammer. Punish myself when I slow down. That's it! No more bathroom breaks until you hit 1000 words, you amateur!

I sprawl out on my bed and doodle with colored pencils in a notebook. Who needs a word count? Why stress myself out with a timer? I know, I'll do a character sketch! No, I'll build a stage set of this pesky scene out of papermache! Forget that. Let's pause to sing Kumbaya.

And then it's back to my desk and a new word count goal, a frenzy of tapping on my keyboard.

I don't have writer's block. I don't have writer's block. I don't have writer's block. I don't have writer's block. I don't have writer's block. I don't have writer's block. I don't have-- 











Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fun Times at a Meeting with My Congressman

I am way out of my league at this meeting.

The other women carry binders of statistics, folders of research, handwritten letters and testimonials. Me, I've got nothing. 

Until a few months ago, I didn't know who my Congressional representative was. (Steve Stivers) Until a few weeks ago, I didn't know what my district was. (Ohio District 15) Until I programmed the address into my GPS, I didn't know where this office was. (3790 Municipal Way, Hilliard, Ohio, office phone: 614-771-4968)

Now I'm sitting here in a reception room with a handful of very prepared, professional-looking women, who are waiting to meet with Steve Stivers' District Director. His name's Adam and he's young enough to be my son. He asks us to sign in and one by one we do, with me wondering what they'll do with these names and addresses.

(Hey, I've read a ton of Dystopian fiction! Someone could be building a list of troublemakers in District 15. Next week they'll round all of us up and make us fight to the death in the Hunger Games or dress us like handmaidens in the Handmaid's Tale. 

That, or Steve Stivers' office will email us a bland, yet nice, form letter thanking us for visiting his office.) 

I decide to go with option C.

We sit down in comfy chairs in a room that looks like a boardroom. Again, I am having flashbacks to school board meetings, except this room's got a nice picture of Steve Stivers on the wall. He seems like a nice guy. Adam seems like a nice guy too. He opens the meeting by asking us to go around and introduce ourselves and share our concerns and he'll gladly pass those on to the congressman. 

Since I'm sitting next to Adam, I go first. I start out okay, I think, saying that I'm new at this-- the whole activist thing. I don't know the proper way to go about expressing my dissent with the new administration. The letters, the phone calls, the town halls that my representative (Steve Stivers) doesn't attend--these don't seem to be making a difference. 

And you know what? I'm angry after reading in the newspaper that Steve Stivers called me and people who've been writing and calling "paid protesters." It's not true. And it's disrespectful, I say, my voice rising.  I voted for Mr. Stivers and now, truth be told, I'm ticked off at myself for doing that. I don't feel like he's representing me.

Also, I don't know even know why I'm mad, I say. None of this affects me. I'm probably not going to be hurt by whatever new healthcare plan is passed. I don't have to worry about losing contraceptives. My kids are now out of public school.

Other people will be affected, though, and this matters to me.  

My voice keeps rising. I can feel my face burning and my voice getting thick. What the hell is this? Ugh, am I going to cry? 

Adam must think so. He's shifting uncomfortably in his seat. His head's bowed and he scrawls something on his notepad. (Possibly: ooooh kay this one's a lunatic.) But he says, nicely, that the congressman wasn't talking about his constituents when he said that thing about the paid protesters. He was talking about the people in Utah. 

This is  a lie  debatable, and I debate him, but then I quit and let the other women have a turn.

They speak, one by one, as Adam dutifully nods and occasionally writes something on his notepad.

One has just come from the hospital where her husband is recovering from expensive surgery. She's grateful for Medicare and is terrified it will be taken away. She has a letter she reads about the importance of the ACA.

Another woman opens a file and begins quoting statistics. She hopes that Steve Stivers will take a look at her research and Adam assures her that he will.

Someone tells a story about her nephew who was born with a congenital disease, how he suffered and died and this was before the ACA and the family struggled with medical bills. She starts to cry as she speaks about how we can't go back to that as a country, where people go bankrupt and have to rely on charity fundraisers to pay for catastrophic care. 

Adam interjects now and again to explain the congressman's thoughts, that healthcare is not a right but a responsibility, that the Republican goal is to keep costs down, that the new plan will help with that.

A woman points out that we'll save money if we keep the ACA. Isn't it better (and cheaper!) she asks, to pay for prevention-- things like birth control, drug addiction treatment, vaccines, medications, regular checkups with the doctor, rather than expensive trips to the emergency room?

Sure, Adam says, but Steve Stivers thinks people should be working to pay for their own health care.

But the working poor are the ones most using the ACA, the woman with all of the research folders points out. And not everyone can work. Children, for example. And elderly people in nursing homes. And people with disabilities. These are the people who will be most harmed by the repeal of the ACA.

An hour goes by and I am losing my will to live desire to sit any longer at this meeting.

It's such a sad, bizarre mix of passionate anger and boring procedural stuff, so that one moment someone is talking about the raging opioid epidemic in Ohio (The state is tied with Kentucky, in the top three of overdose deaths this year.) and the next moment, we're discussing the protocol for how the office handles constituent mail. Also, how many mean phone calls Steve Stivers gets each day. (A lot, apparently. But Adam assures us that Steve Stivers has a thick skin. Whew.)

After the meeting, the women hand Adam their letters and folders of research. Another office worker takes our pictures with Adam. He shakes our hands and offers us his card. He really is a nice guy. 

And it really is nice that Steve Stivers opened his office up to us, that he pays nice guys like Adam to answer the phones and read our letters, that he gives his constituents an opportunity to vent their anger and terror in meetings like this one. 

Steve Stivers is going to vote for the new healthcare law that guts the ACA anyway.

I know this. The women at the meeting know this too. I drive home from the meeting wondering why I went. I have no idea what to do next.

So I do the only thing I can.

I write about it.


Steve Stivers, the nice Congressperson of Ohio District 15



Saturday, March 18, 2017

When you have the attention span of a goldfish, sometimes poetry is the only thing that can save you...

Who knew there were so many poets?

Every day, a new one, a person I've never heard of, pops up in my email and whispers as I blearily brew my first cup of coffee.

These are the first words I hear each day, words that make me smile, words that confuse me, words that crush me. Always they make me pause as I swallow my coffee, make my foggy brain think hard, send me off on wild tangents before I begin my day's work.

Who knew I needed this so much?

A few months ago, drowning in waves of distressing news, caught up in the outrage and fear being shared by friends and strangers on social media, I was floundering around with my own words, struggling to settle down to write.

I was even having trouble reading books.

I heard an interview with Adam Alter, the author of the book Irresistible by Design, that our continual reading of stuff online has changed our brain chemistry. We used to have longer attention spans. Ten years ago before most of us started carrying our phones around with us, the average person could focus for roughly 12 seconds. Now, with our near constant jumping around from topic to topic, we're down to 8 seconds,

which is less than a goldfish.

Wait. Wasn't I just talking about poetry?

haha, so anyway, in December, I made a New Year's resolution to start my day, each day, by reading a poem. Okay, maybe my jumpy anxious mind couldn't handle full-blown novels, but surely I could read a page-long poem! Also, I once worked on an MFA in Poetry and I'd let all of that go and I missed reading poetry and wondered if I even could anymore.

I was thinking, too, that if nothing else, it would be a good way to start the day.

I have tons of poetry books on my book shelves, but seeking an even easier way to fulfill my resolution, naturally, I scrolled around online. Wouldn't it be cool if I could get an email of a poem every day? A poem, right there, in my inbox...

And wouldn't you know it? There IS such a thing! It's called Poem a Day and it's brought to you by the lovely people of Poets.org through the Academy of American Poets (funded, partially, by the NEA, which is on the chopping block by our new regime, but I digress, again.)




Every morning before I read the crap news of the day or check in on social media, I open up my email and read a poem-- or, listen. (Some of the poems have audio files of the poets reading!) These poets are a smorgasbordof diverse voices-- young and old, brand newbys to multiply published, men and women, people of all backgrounds. I had never heard of any of them.

(News flash, and because I think 8 seconds has just passed: most poets are not well known. They play around with their words in relative obscurity, publish poems in magazines few people read, make very little money-- if any)

But I love reading the poems by these people. I love knowing they're out there somewhere writing and thinking and playing with words, sending their poems off to the Academy of American Poets--whatever their submission process is-- and that someone at the Poets.org place is reading and choosing and putting together the email entry, recording the audio file, sending the day's selection off to the subscribers--

and me

so I can face a new day, with new words:


For a moment, I stand with ghosts
and the framed ancestors surrounding me. 



The best movies begin with an encounter 
and end with someone setting someone free. 



how the trash man paused with the storm glass,
holding it, making himself into a frame, a single frame—
all poets wonder if this is enough. 




*lines from poems by Parneshia Jones, Diana Marie Delgado, and Joy Katz


Saturday, March 11, 2017

(Not) Just a Girl: The Messed-up Floundery Yearning Teen Creations of Carrie Mesrobian


When you read a Carrie Mesrobian book, you meet the kids who tend to be overlooked and ignored in other young adult books. 

And in life. 

These are the kids who slouch in the middle rows of the classroom. The C-student kids who work after school at thrift stores or in restaurant kitchens or at the local tanning salon. They're not the star athletes, the popular kids, the valedictorians. They don't know where they want to go to college. Actually, they're not sure they want to go at all. The future is vague. 

Hell, next week is vague.  

What's there to do, if you're one of these kids, but live in the moment? Hang out with your friends. Go to beer-y parties after the Friday night football game. Hook up with a girl friend or a boy friend. Or both. 

Rianne, the main character in Mesrobian's newest novel Just a Girl is underestimated by everyone. She's used to living in her high achieving older sister's shadow, being lectured to by her mom, and overlooked by her dad. Her friends are cool and close, but lately they're growing apart as senior year grinds on and everyone's gearing up for what they plan to do after graduation. Rianne has no idea what she wants to do after graduation. 

It's not helping that she's been told explicitly, and implicitly, that she is bad --a reputation that dates back to a sexual experience with an older guy her freshman year and is solidified after another boy Tells All. Rianne never tries to refute it or even explain.

Like a lot of girls, I suspect, she internalizes the views her peers have of her, and simply goes on. 

She's dating Luke, a kid also known for his "bad" reputation-- but lucky for Luke, boys don't get the same crap for stuff like that. Anyway, he's a fairly decent guy. Maybe Rianne will end up with him. Maybe she'll end up sticking around in their small town, a place that feels more and more stifling.

Or maybe she'll jump on an opportunity that no one, including this reader, saw coming, and even now, weeks after I've finished reading the novel, still disturbs me. 

It's so hard to explain this book-- and all of Carrie Mesrobian's books-- because nothing really happens. There are no easy answers, or even any answers. It's the questions that get you, that tunnel around in your head while you're reading and long after. 

How do you recover after violent trauma? What do you do when your friends abandon you? How do you cope when your parents tell you it's time to leave home, now, even though you're not ready? What do you do when your boyfriend breaks your heart? 

Where do you go when no one expects you to go anywhere? 



*Just a Girl is out March 28th, 2017. If you, dear reader, are a librarian or teacher and would like a signed, advanced copy of this most excellent, disturbing, heartbreaking, beautifully written novel, post a comment below. I'll pick one at random, and send it your way. 




Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Write in the Morning/Protest the Regime in the Afternoon: Notes from the Resistance

Except for the signs people are waving around, this could be a PTA meeting.

The group is chatty, friendly in the way that we know we all have something in common.  I bump into acquaintances. I introduce myself to strangers. And then it's down to business. When you go to a town hall for your congressman, there's an agenda. Speakers. Laughter when someone mentions she's not being paid to be here. She's holding a wriggling child.

If I was being paid to be here, she says, I would've gotten a babysitter.

Our congressman doesn't show up. Maybe it makes him feel better to imagine that someone is paying us to talk to him. Maybe he's afraid we're an angry mob.

Spoiler alert: we are not.

I don't ask any questions at the town hall. I don't raise my hand to speak. I listen. I'm curious about how all of this works. I am new to protesting. Until a few weeks ago I didn't know what a town hall was. I barely knew who my representatives were. Now I have all of their numbers saved on my phone.

I have no idea if it makes any difference when I call them, leaving voicemail messages or every once in a while, getting through to chat with a harried intern.

When my kids were in elementary school, my husband used to joke that I was a full-time volunteer. Too bad you don't get paid for this, he said. This is like a job.

I was elected to serve on a site-based school board for five years. I edited the school newsletter. I was on the PTA board. I can't even count how many meetings I went to. Some were contentious. A few were stressful to the point that I thought about quitting. I commiserated once with a fellow volunteer and she shrugged off my weary outrage.

Just remember why you're doing this, she said. Because you care about your kids. You care about everybody's kids.

A few weeks ago at the Women's March in DC, I walked around for hours holding a sign above my head. I was so fired up I felt like I could hold that sign up forever. When I returned home, I wanted to keep on marching with it. Maybe I'd carry it with me when I walked the dog around the block.

I imagined my neighbors' raised eyebrows, and drove downtown to protest outside my senator's office instead.

This was totally out of my comfort zone. I had to plug the address into my GPS. I had to park in a creepy parking garage. I climbed the stairs up from the underground garage and wondered how in the world I would even find the protest.

No worries. It was the group of 150 people or so gathered across the street. I joined them and raised my sign overhead. An hour later I got lost trying to find my car. I paid five bucks for parking and laughed thinking about how I had basically just paid money to protest.

It's weird, and sad, that my president says that I, and people like me, are being paid to show up at town halls and to march at rallies. Besides the fact that it is an easily provable lie, it's disrespectful. He's making the assumption that I wouldn't DO this-- care passionately about something-- unless I was being paid.

At one of those contentious school board meetings, I spoke out against the principal's proposal to do away with foreign language classes. This was a middle school that housed a Spanish Immersion program for a small group of students (including my son). The proposal was to get rid of foreign language for the kids in what they called "the neighborhood." The gist of the principal's argument was that foreign language classes (and later he'd throw in stuff like art and music) were extras, frivolous, especially when you took into account that many of the neighborhood students were struggling in reading and math. Anyway, it didn't affect my kid, so why was I even opposing his plan?

At the Town Hall of our absent congressman, someone speaks about the importance of being involved in the community, of reminding our representatives that they work for and serve their constituents--us. Another person speaks about the environment, how she was raised in the shadow of a coal plant, how she's now fearful of the administration's rollback of environmental regulations. Another person speaks about her experience as a Muslim American, how she's lived in our community for ten years, how she volunteers at her mosque to serve meals to the poor, how she is hurt and afraid by the tone of the president about fellow Muslims.

One by one people in the room stand. They're terrified they will lose their healthcare. They worry about the dismantling of public education. They're sad about the disparaging comments made about women and minorities and the disabled.

The morning after the election, a friend rolled her eyes and asked me, When are you going to get over this?

She may as well have asked me, When are you going to stop caring?

I didn't answer her back then, but I will now:

Never.





















Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On Bears, Camus and a Mutual Love for Emily Dickinson: Interview with Jenny Torres Sanchez

I'm so happy to welcome Jenny Torres Sanchez back to On The Verge. Jenny's novel Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia made me a fan, and later led to our friendship (I mean, who else can I talk to about my love for Emily Dickinson?) At a recent writing retreat Jenny and I learned we had other things in common, besides Emily D. We were both English teachers, for example. Also, we both have a weird fascination with bear attacks.

Jenny's latest novel, Because of the Sun is a glorious, heartbreaking magical-realism blend of a dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship with the hypnotic, dream-like tone of Camus' The Stranger.

Plus, it features a metaphorical (and possibly literal) bear.


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Jody: Okay, so you know that I am obsessed with Sid Fleischman's Two Sticks Theory -- that just as it takes two sticks to build a fire, it takes two ideas to spark a story. What were the two ideas that sparked Because of the Sun?

Jenny: There were actually four sticks: An old short story about a girl and her mother I started when I was about twenty years old, but never finished and that just kind of followed me around all these years. There was the unrelenting Florida sun as summer approached. There were headlines about several black bear/human encounters near where I live in Florida. And definitely, definitely there was The Stranger by Albert Camus, which I read in high school and have always loved.

Jody: I read The Stranger a million years ago. I honestly don't remember anything about it except that I felt like I'd fallen into a dream when I was reading.

Jenny: I had a similar impression. I’ve reread the book a few times over the years but I had just reread about a year before I started writing this novel. That book was so weird to me when I read it in high school, but I was completely fascinated by the main character. Meursault is so . . . weird! And interesting. I felt then like I didn’t quite get him, but I wanted to figure him out. So I thought about that book a lot over the years, and reread it several times, and it ended up inspiring this book in so many ways.

Jody: I can see the similarities. There's this feeling of dreamy detachment in the voice of your main character Dani.

Jenny: Yes, and Meursault's lost his mother too. And there's the blazing hot sun that makes you do/think crazy things, and the question of what it means to have or-- not have hope.

Jody: What was your process for writing this book? Was it different from other books you've written?

Jenny: I was kind of in a weird writing place. A book I had worked on for a while and struggled with, but finished, was on submission. It didn’t look like it was going anywhere and I knew I needed to get myself into a new project or I was going to drive myself crazy. So, the weather had been really hot. I was thinking a lot of The Stranger because the sun always kind of makes me think of that book. I was also thinking of that short story I told you about. I remember vividly sitting down at my kitchen table and playing around with the concept of that short story and getting some opening lines down.

Jody: And then the bears came into it?

Jenny: Ha! Yes. The headlines of bear encounters had been on the morning news lately and when I started writing, all these things started clicking into place. Each time I sat down to work, Dani’s story kept coming together. There wasn’t a whole lot of frustration with this novel. Maybe there was more than I’m remembering, but I think it was less than I’d felt with my previous books. This book felt like it’d been waiting to be written and now was the right time.

Jody: That's a nice feeling.

Jenny: I know. I read or heard Sara Zarr talk about one of her books once (I think it was How to Save a Life) where she said that book felt like a gift. That’s how I feel about this book. It came together strangely and kind of quickly.

Jody: Those days when it's more difficult though, or with other writing projects that are more of a struggle, do you have certain activities that help you to push through?

Jenny: I like to sit outside and think about the story and try to get into my characters’ minds. I like to read poetry and wonder how it might relate to one of my characters. I also like to take short drives while listening to music (usually songs that are related to what I’m working on because I make a playlist for each book I’m working on). Short drives because I usually need to get home and take some notes. All these things help me a lot. I feel like they’re a way to tap into my characters better and get to know them and how they feel.

Jody: Your books are very character-driven rather than plot-oriented.


Jenny: This is true. I love to write the small quiet moments, when a character is very reflective, almost inside themselves wondering about something or discovering something. Those are my absolute favorite scenes to write. Which I guess explains why action scenes aren’t really my thing. They’re not terrible to write, but I don't enjoy them much.

Jody: Switching topics a bit--  you've got three kids, including a little one at home... how do you balance writing and being a mom? Any tricks of the trade you've learned along the way? Is this an unfair question? I mean, would I have asked this of a man? hmm...

Jenny: I don’t actually think this question is so much unfair as I think it’s a question that should also commonly be asked of men. Writing is difficult and it is done at all kinds of hours and for any writer who has a family, it can be a challenge. For some fathers who write, perhaps it’s as much of a balancing act as it is for some mothers who write. And for some, it’s not and they don’t even realize the vital role their spouse has in their ability to do what they do. I think men should be asked to reflect on this as much as women. As for me, yeah, I definitely have to balance work and family like any working parent. But my family understands writing is my work. My husband and kids respect that I’m a writer and writing is my job. So, they get it. That makes the balancing act easier.

Jody: And we have to balance other aspects of our lives too. I know you're concerned about social justice and care about the potentially scary turn in our country's politics. How do you balance writing with being a human in a dark world? Does it affect your writing? Does it show up in your work?

Jenny: I observe. I let myself feel the emotions that stem from it all, my emotions and those of others, the anger, the fear, the hopelessness and hopefulness. And then I use it all, even if what I’m writing might not deal directly with social justice issues (though some of it does). The darkness of our world definitely shows up. In some way or another. And it inspires me to seek answers and solutions and find beauty and light.

And I try to balance all of that out with other creative pursuits. I like to take photos, and listen to records, and paint (I do this very badly, but it’s still fun).  I collect things but nothing specific. Just little trinkets and cool little items that seem interesting to me.

Jody: Such as Emily Dickinson postcards...

Jenny: Yes! I was so happy that you sent that to me. I pinned it up next to the photo I have of her tombstone.

Jody: Favorite good book you've read recently?

Jenny: I’m reading Idaho by Emily Ruskovich now and it seems exactly the kind of book I’m going to love. I read Kathleen Glasgow’s Girl In Pieces this past summer and that is an amazingly raw and painful and beautiful book. Also, I love Edwidge Danticat’s Untwine and was really excited to read a YA novel by her because I’m a big fan of her work (Claire of the Sea Light is another one of her books that's a favorite of mine). The story of those sisters in Untwine broke my heart and I loved the way she weaved in the Haitian culture. I also recently read Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson and that is a powerful, hopeful punch in a very slim book.

Jody: On a lighter note, any guilty pleasures? What's the last TV show you've binged?

Jenny: I don’t binge on tv shows much. I mostly watch the news these days and get angry and a little depressed before making a plan to call my senators. Then I watch reruns of The Golden Girls and King of Queens. I’m the life of the party, Jody.

Jody: I see we have even more things in common!  Before I let you go, can you share something about your next project?

Jenny: It's called Crows Cry Emilia and due to publish in 2018 by Philomel. I am so, so excited about it. It’s a story about sixteen year old Emilia who thinks she’s over her tragic past until it comes back to haunt her. Having survived a brutal attack on her elementary school’s playground when she was eight years old, she is caught off guard once more when the police reveal they’ve convicted the wrong guy for the crime. The story follows Emilia as she comes undone and we see the lasting effects of the past on not only her, but those she loves most. My editor, Liza Kaplan, is amazing and I think this book will be better than I ever could have imagined because of her guidance. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world.

Jody: I am so looking forward to that, Jenny. Thanks for chatting with me today, and dear readers, if you'd like to find out more about Jenny Torres Sanchez and her work, please see below.

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JENNY TORRES SANCHEZ is a full-time writer and former English teacher. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, but has lived on the border of two worlds her whole life. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband and children.

Website: jennytorressanchez.com
Twitter: @jetchez
Facebook 
Instagram
Indiebound
Amazon











Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Adventures in New York: Tales of Blizzards, Russian Novels, Emily Dickinson, and a Writing Conference with 1200 of My Closest Friends

Day One: I'm here a night early because a snowstorm's coming and my airline suggests that I go, so I do, fortunate to have a place to stay, an apartment way uptown with a friend. I'm a grown-up in the cab, feeling sophisticated as I give the driver the address. Feeling less sophisticated when I apparently commit a major faux pas and don't tip him enough? Because he drops me at the curb and doesn't get out to help me haul my suitcase and when I try to close the cab trunk it whacks me in the head.

Day Two: Outside's a blizzard. My friend is not feeling well, but she's a trooper, walking me to the subway station seven blocks away. We laugh in the fierce wind, clomping up snowy sidewalks, me dragging my wheeled suitcase, the only two dodos out walking except for a guy here and there shoveling a store front. At the subway station, I'm snowy-melty-wet and sweating, lugging my dripping suitcase, working on feeling sophisticated as I ride 110 blocks downtown, change trains, and ride into Grand Central, find my hotel, miraculously, inside the terminal building, heave my drippy suitcase into the lobby, realizing with horror that my ID is in my suitcase and I will have to open it, in the lobby, in order to check in.

Meet my roommate and her friend, who has never been to NYC and wants to see the Empire State Building, and the blizzard's over and the sidewalk shovelers are amazingly efficient and I offer to take her there.

We promptly get lost. And I step off a curb directly into a icy slush puddle and soak my sneakers through. Then I walk ten blocks, feet tingling and frozen, chatting, while stressing over the state of my skin and wondering how long it takes for frostbite to set in.

No worries! I find a corner tourist-y store and buy a ten dollar pair of I Love New York socks. (Best ten bucks I ever spent in my life.)

Did I mention I'm here for a writing conference? It's the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators annual Winter Conference! And I am the Regional Advisor of the Ohio Central South region and they're paying my way! Woot! All of the RAs walk to Broadway and see a play I've never heard of, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, which I learn later is a story taken from War and Peace, and I love it. (Favorite song: "In 19th Century Russia We Write Letters.") Walk home in the cold, clinging to a new friend as we step over frozen curbs and try not to fall and/or soak ourselves.

Day Three: I have no boots, but damn it, this will not keep me from walking eight blocks to the Morgan Library to see an Emily Dickinson exhibit! Fun facts: Emily D had red hair. Also, she treated books even more disrespectfully than I do-- not merely content to fold pages and scrawl all over the margins, but also cutting words out and gluing them onto other pages.

I am a brave subway rider, finding the correct route and taking it down to the Lower East Side to see the Tenement Museum, getting lost only once and so very careful not to step off a street into a ice puddle.

I meet a friend for a drink in the hotel, which turns into two drinks and I've eaten nothing since breakfast and I go tipsily to party with fellow RAs and editors and agents and gorge myself at the mashed potato bar and bump into an agent who rejected me once and I think I tell her that I love her?

Day Four: Crack of dawn and I am at my station, registering people for the conference and pointing out the women's restroom and the coat check. Laughing when Lin Oliver, the SCBWI co-founder, tells us jokes and holding back tears when the brilliant Bryan Collier speaks about seeing himself for the first time in a book, A Snowy Day, and how he thinks of that little boy Peter when he makes his art.

The world is waiting for you to dream, he says. The kids are waiting for you. 

Later I do cry as beloved/best-selling author Tahereh Mafi speaks of the experiences of her immigrant parents from Iran and shares her long writing and publishing journey.

I am the lucky RA chosen to help Tahereh later with her book-signing, which basically involves handing the fans post-it notes to write out their names and holding their books open so Tahereh can autograph easily. She speaks with each person and I watch them walk away clutching their books, blinking back tears.

And then it is time for another party! And more mashed potato bar! I mingle with my regional members and drink a 17 dollar glass of wine.

Which leads to another party for new members and I realize that once, long ago, I was a new member and had no clue about writing or publishing and look at me now, a much older veteran in the trenches with achy (yet thankfully, warm/dry) feet.

Day Five: I ride in an elevator with Jane Yolen and then I hear her speak. Tomie De Paola presents an award to a worthy up-and-coming illustrator. Publishers and agents talk about the state of the business. Cynthis Leitich-Smith and Ellen Hopkins discuss difficult topics in kids books and how to write about our changing, diverse world. They remind us that this year 50.2% of all babies born in America were not white and we, as children's writers, are on the forefront of acknowledging and embracing all of our readers.

Sara Pennypacker gives the closing address and she is glorious, reminding us why we write and why our stories matter.

We write to allow children to experience safely dangerous situations. 

Our job is to give children a voice in a world where they rarely have one.  
She tells us to find our tribe, to surround ourselves with other creators, to reflect life and to model life.

I must sneak out of the room before she's finished to take my place at my next station, by the side of Andrea Beatty, author of the bestselling Ada Twist, Scientist. Andrea's line snakes around the room and the organizers whisper to me to move it along, but I can't bear to. Andrea is so funny and personable, chatting with each fan, scrawling her name and writing Be Bold! on each book.

I pour her water and snap photos of her posing with her fans. "In April I'm marching for science," she tells me during a rare lull, and then two children walk up with their harried mom. The girls are holding books, heads bowed, reading. They shyly lower the books and Andrea chats enthusiastically, flipping through the pages, pointing out the secret hidden illustrations.

Off to the airport with my roommate, now a dear friend. We eat a twenty dollar airport meal and share photos of our kids and pets and gardens. Our flights are delayed and we commiserate about the world and vow to keep in touch.

Much later I settle into my cramped seat on the plane, open the book I am reading, fall into the world of the story as the plane takes off and the lights of the city fade away.






Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How to Treat Books: Thoughts on Building Book Towers, Writing in Margins, and Cracking Spines

When I was in college I spent the night at a relative's house, and bored, after everyone had gone to bed, I perused a bookshelf filled with rows of pristine hardcover gold-tinged classics and pulled one out to read. Later, I set the book down, dangling it over the edge of an end table because I couldn't find a bookmark.

The next morning the relative, clearly upset, scolded me: "Don't you know how to treat a book?"

I stammered out an apology, not daring to mention that my Dangle over the Edge Method was me trying to show proper respect for her book. My usual strategy for saving a page was folding it over at the corner or simply setting the book down, splayed out.

I felt like a book barbarian. Here, I'd always that how you treat a book respectfully was by reading it.

Confession: as a kid I constructed high-rise apartment buildings for my barbie dolls out of books and blocks.

In school I took notes in the margins of my books.

When I open a new book, especially the pristine hardcover type, the first thing I do is crack the spine for easier reading.

More confessions: My cookbooks have food stains on the pages.

When my kids were little, I let them gnaw on their board books. My daughter ate all four corners of her Pat the Bunny book and I thought that was adorable.

A few years ago I was sitting in a doctor's waiting room reading and suddenly the ending of the book I was in the middle of writing scrolled out in my mind and I did the only logical thing: I scribbled it all out in the margins.

I've been thinking about books and how I treat them because I just read Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman.


If you are a fellow book lover, you will love this collection of essays about books and reading. Some fun topics covered: how to properly mingle your spouse's library collection with your own, (you're not truly married until you do), what it's like to grow up in a family of compulsive proofreaders, (you will find yourselves out to dinner with each other correcting the menus), the joys of browsing in used bookstores (Fadiman and her husband once purchased 19 pounds of books in an afternoon that they then had to tote home on a train), and the respectful treatment of books (Fadiman, when she was a child, I am happy to note, built towers out of her father's books and had no qualms about letting her children eat the corners).

Unlike Fadiman, I did not grow up with many books in my home, save for the ones I made block high rises out of-- a handful of Reader's Digest books and a set of World Book Encyclopedias, 1975 edition. My mother was a big proponent of the public library and she gave me quarters to buy a paperback every now and then from the Scholastic Book Fair. My prized book possessions were the complete set off Trixie Belden, #1 through #16. Also, a book on Greek mythology, a book called The Best Loved Poems, and a book on astrology, Love Signs by Linda Goodman.

Interesting fact: the only book that I still own from the time is Love Signs by Linda Goodman.

Today I am a compulsive collector of books.

Walk into my house and here's what you will find--

In the living room:

(My husband, God love him, built these bookshelves
and the shelves in every house we've lived in) 


In the kitchen:

(note the torn up Joy of Cooking, center, courtesy of the dog)


In my office:



 Next to my bed:


Years ago, still mourning the loss of my Trixie Belden books, I came upon the complete set in a used bookstore and promptly bought them.

They sit on my office bookshelf, spines cracked, tattered, written in, and possibly gnawed on by somebody.



I promise you: I know how to treat books.




Monday, January 23, 2017

Bonding in the Porta Potty Line: Dispatches from the Women's March in Washington D.C.


One thing all women know: there will be a line for the bathroom.


We talk to each other in those lines, smile, nod, in solidarity. We never cut in front of each other-- unless it is an emergency, or we are toting a small child who is wailing that he has to GO! Then the cutting is okay. We understand. We've all been there. The crying kid, the diaper bag weighing down our arms. We know. We know.

The women at the march are older for the most part.

In their late forties, fifties, sixties. They skew upper middle class. But it makes sense. Who else can hop on a bus, a plane, a train and travel across the country fairly easily? Not that there aren't younger women here. Women pushing strollers, walking with babies strapped to their chests. And men, God bless them, our allies, the ones who hold our purses and make emergency trips to the CVS at night to buy tampons for us when we have our periods or fetch the craved Wendy's hamburger when we're pregnant, men who wait patiently for us to return from the always long ladies' room line at the concert.

The buses let people off in the streets and we walk together with our signs. Love Trumps Hate! Keep Your Hands Off My Uterus! Y'all Means All! We wear our knitted pink hats. We smile at the babies wrapped in pink blankets, the dogs in pink sweaters. A golden retriever trotting with a sign: Even The Dogs Understand No Means No.

We pass the Capitol. The Washington Monument. The newly opened African American History Museum. People parading from all directions, so many people that we don't use the planned march route. We march on all of the streets. We take pictures of each other. We say excuse me when we step on each other's toes. Someone starts a chant and we laugh and repeat it:

Hands too small
Can't build a wall

We need a leader
Not a creepy tweeter

Tell me what democracy looks like
THIS is what democracy looks like



We tear up at the sight of the women in wheelchairs, the ones walking with canes. I walk with a woman who has stage four breast cancer. I walk with rape survivors. I walk with women who've had abortions. Women who relied on Planned Parenthood in college. Women fearful for their daughters and their son's girlfriends. What will happen to these girls in a country where the president refers to them by one body part? We are not women to him. We are not human. We are pussies.

I hate that word.

Each time I read it on a sign, my stomach clenches with anxiety. But this man who sits in the beautiful building we march by calls us this word, and half of the country is perfectly fine with it. Fifty-three percent of white women voted for this man. I know some of these women and I am having a hard time understanding their betrayal

especially as I stand in line for a porta potty, chatting with the black woman in front of me.

Always a line, she says, smiling.

I know, I say. I know.

We shuffle up together, commiserating at the number of women standing in the line in front of us, marveling at the size of the crowd surging around us, all of the lovingly knitted pink hats, the clever signs, the funny signs, the vulgar signs, the defiant signs, the man with the Canadian flag sitting in the tree waving, telling us we're all welcome in his country, the college girls chanting, the grandmothers taking a rest on the bleachers, the little girls asleep in their mothers' arms.

We are more than our reproductive systems-- although we all know we build our lives around that, planning pregnancies or finding ourselves pregnant, caught in meetings without maxi pads, fanning ourselves through hot flashes--

Still, we are not ruled by our wombs and we cannot be distilled down to one word--

We are scientists and teachers, doctors and attorneys, writers and artists, stay-at-home moms and never-been-moms. We are lovers of men. We are lovers of women. We are newly graduated and retired. Black and White. Muslim and Christian and Jewish. Mexican, Italian, Polish, German, Irish, Somali, Native American--

We are women

shuffling together toward the line of porta potties, surrounded by millions of our sisters.










Thursday, January 19, 2017

Why I March in the Women's March

I am going to the Women's March in DC this Saturday

because this election and the upcoming administration feels like an assault on everything I believe.

I wanted to make a protest sign to articulate all of my thoughts, all of my reasons for protesting.

I say

No-- to a man who boasts about grabbing women and girls by their private parts, who views women and girls as objects to rate and denigrate, who thinks it's disgusting when women breastfeed or have to go to the bathroom, who jokes about dating his own daughter, who calls women he doesn't like pigs, who parades into dressing rooms of underage girls and thinks that's funny and his right because he was born wealthy

No-- to a man who mocks people who have disabilities

No-- to a man who disparages people of color and people who are Muslim and people from other countries and people who are refugees and immigrants

No-- to a man who encourages his supporters to look at others with suspicion, to harm others, to bully others

No-- to a man who calls veterans losers and insults the parents of war heroes who gave their lives for this country and shows disdain for soldiers who suffer from PTSD

No-- to a man who threatens journalists, who wants to silence his critics

No-- to a man who shows contempt for Science, who doesn't believe in Climate Change

No-- to a man who tweets insults and bullies citizens who disagree with him

No-- to a man who surrounds himself with white supremacists, who takes advice from billionaires and Oligarchs and Russian leaders

No-- to a man who mocks the poor

No-- to a man who misleads his supporters, who makes promises he can't possibly keep, who wants to make America great again but can't explain what that means or WHEN that means and refuses to level with his supporters that it is impossible to go back to a mythical time when everything was "great" because everything WASN'T great for everyone.

No-- to a narcissist who can't empathize with anyone but himself, who has done real damage to most of the people he has come in contact with-- black people who he denied apartments to, women he sexually assaulted, workers he refused to pay, students he misled in his fake university, and all of us he has lied to-- about his status as a billionaire, about who he owes money to, about his multiple bankruptcies, about his many scams, about his entanglements with Russia--

But, all of that wouldn't fit on my sign.

So I just wrote this:


When I return from the March, the real work begins. That is when I will say Yes to actively working against him and every monstrous thing he stands for.




Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Take Two

I wrote a book in November.

Correction: I wrote the first draft of a book in November.

Okay, it wasn't a "book" exactly. More like 65,000 words molded into a book-like shape. Characters. Scenes. Pieces and chunks of scenes. A possible beginning. A foggy middle. A glimmer of an ending.

This is a typical first draft for me, my way of exploring a couple of ideas and watching, waiting for those seemingly unrelated strands to come together, wondering the whole while if they WILL come together and then marveling when they inevitably do. It's the bizarre and magical aspect of writing a story and I don't even pretend to understand how it works.

What I do know is that if I go In each day, write my words, trust the process, follow the characters and the story strands-- something will eventually spark and catch fire, and if I keep going with it, if I keep showing up on the page, pushing, while at the same time letting go and not pushing at all--

I will find myself at the end of the process with this Thing that I did not have at the beginning,

a first draft.

By definition it is a mess.

Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird calls them "shitty first drafts" and the first time I read that I loved Anne Lamott. The first draft, she says, shitty as it may be, is perfect, because it is finished. Because you made it to the end of it and now you have something to work with, something to revise.

Which is where I am now, at the beginning of the Take Two leg of this novel-writing marathon.

I'm okay with that. Even a little excited. I have methods that have worked for me in the past. Strategies.

*Put the first draft away for a while.

*Print it off in a different font from the font that you wrote it in.

*Read it. Which is always a challenge. It's hard to face this thing you wrote-- see the actual words written on the page vs the beautiful complex amazing brilliant story you had floating around in your head, and then come to grips with all of the work you're going to have to do to get the draft on the page closer to what you envision.

I take notes as I read. I write questions to myself. I make a list:

What I have/What I need

So far my list sounds like this:
What I have: characters, a voice, a back story
What I need: a plot


A few months ago I was at a party and an aspiring writer asked my opinion about revision. "I bet you don't revise as much anymore," she said, "now that you're more experienced."

I shook my head. "No," I said. "I revise even more now."

She looked at me quizzically. I could tell she didn't quite believe me. Some beginning writers assume that it gets easier. (Spoiler alert: It doesn't.)

I can't remember where I read this, but a student asks a teacher:

Do good writers revise?

And the teacher answers: Only good writers revise.

Every writer has their secrets. 

Lately, I've been thinking of revision as a kind of puzzle. I empty the pieces onto the table. I turn them over and study them. I group them by color, by shape. I click together the obvious ones, assemble the larger chunks, maybe stop every now and then to string the border, identify the corners, trying not to get overwhelmed by the pieces that don't seem to fit, all of those empty spaces that will have to be filled in eventually.

And then there's nothing to do but start writing.

Take two.