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.

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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: