Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The eighty-eight year old woman in our home

likes to sleep in the sun.

Or sometimes she will curl up on a heating vent. Why is it so cold in this house, we will say, and then we will stumble shivering into the kitchen and find the eighty-eight year old woman parked out like a queen on the vent, absorbing all of our heat.

Another place she likes to snooze is on a plumped up pillow that we've stuffed inside a box and tucked into the closet. Putting away our clothes in the afternoon we hear her light snores, tiptoe out of the room so as not to disturb her nap.

She is not much of a traveler.

Truth be told, she doesn't like anyone else in the family to travel either. She hasn't told us this, exactly, but she makes her very strong feelings known. Leave an open, half-packed suitcase on the bed, and the next thing we know You Know Who's stretched out grooming herself upon it.

And speaking of grooming, she will tolerate a combing for approximately three minutes and then she will bite us. She does not bite hard, so we try to overlook her aggression.

We have suspicions that she is a Republican.

Also, she is a prankster. Often she will sit in the exact center of a doorway or on the stairs because she knows the dog is afraid to walk past her. What's the crying? we'll say. Where's the dog? we'll say, and then we'll see the eighty-eight year old woman, blinking at us and smirking, the dog cowering behind her.

We have known her for eighteen years, through three house-movings and two states, five fish, the already-mentioned dog, two children--who were once elementary age and then teen-aged and now adults. 

At night she likes to sleep on my head.

Last week she had a stroke and went blind. She wobbled woozily around the room for a day but then righted herself. Twitching her tail, she explores the new dark world, finds the heating vent and her food.

It's almost time, the doctor tells us. But seeing as how she's still having some good days, it's okay to wait a bit.

We cart her back home and let her go, watch her circle her way around the room, carry her up and down the stairs, comb her for approximately three minutes, help her find her pillow.

Tiptoe out of the room so she can rest.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Book recs from my family to yours

We've got a full house here for Thanksgiving, and in between chowing down on 15 pounds of turkey and Grandma's ginormous tin of homemade m & m cookies, everyone is busy reading.

Including Mr. Peppers, visiting from Florida, who is checking out the latest 614 Magazine with things to do around Columbus.

A good audio book series, according to my husband, is the Stephanie Plum Mysteries by Janet Evanovich. The actress who reads the series does a great job voicing the characters and the books are fast-paced and funny. My husband used to hate his commute back and forth to work, but now, thanks to his Stephanie Plum audio books (borrowed from my library!), he hardly minds anymore.

The best book my mother ever read is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Side note: this novel has been on the New York Times Best Seller List for weeks and as long as I have been working at the library, people have been on the waiting list to borrow it. Last time I checked, there were 1000 people in line. Get in line now and you will, according to my mother, cry your heart out.

Auntie Jan says to tell you that the latest John Grisham book, The Guardians, is supposed to be very good. Also, the latest Nelson DeMille. But right now she is re-reading all of the Outlander books because she is in love with the series on Netflix. Plus, she thinks book number 9 is coming out soon and she wants to be ready.

Grandma Linda (of m & m cookie-baking fame) is a fan of the Stone Barrington series by Stuart Woods because she likes the characters and the mystery.

Grandpa wants to recommend a movie. His favorite is Independence Day because he likes how Will Smith blows up the aliens. And speaking of aliens,

Our son, who is not with us for the holiday because he is presently climbing a large rock in Nevada and scaring the crud out of me, highly recommends  The Three Body Problem by Cixin Lui, which is "a sci-fi about the cultural revolution in China, but also aliens."

Climbing a rock and not reading a book right now 

And last but not least, our daughter, who is also not with us because she is presently gallivanting around London... but thankfully, not climbing large rocks: The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty.

Me: What did you like about it?
Daughter: The voice
Me: Can you give me a little more?
Daughter: No.

And there you have it.

Tune in next week for book recs from me!

Monday, November 25, 2019

How to write 50,000 words in 24 days

Short answer: Sit down with your laptop and write 50,000 words.

Which is easier said than done because this is a potentially busy 24 days, with 20+ hours per week at the day job and the seemingly-never-ending cleaning/painting/remodeling projects to do around the new-old house... 

(side note:

I highly recommend College Hunks Hauling Junk for all of you junk-hauling needs. In our case this was a ten foot wide and five foot high pile of rotting wood and other odds and ends collecting in our driveway-- all of the broken down stuff that came from inside and outside our new-old house. (Because the previous owner really really really seemed to enjoy nailing wood up everywhere.) Plus a hot tub in the basement. (Because when I think Hot Tub, I don't think Basement.) 

The college hunks (who I suspect were not actually in college, and truthfully, while they were not unattractive, they would probably not be labeled hunks) loaded the giant pile of wood onto a truck and then set about chainsawing the hot tub in half so they could haul it out of the basement.) 

junk pile

sawed in half hot tub in a truck

everything else in the truck

Also, smack in the middle of this 24-day period I had to attend a college reunion. I was on the reunion planning committee, (long story) so I couldn't get out of it, which meant a 9-hour car drive down to the college and an all day gathering and a 9 hour car drive back, and likely very little writing time. And this was okay! I loved reconnecting with my old friends!

lovely library nook at my college

But it did mean that the 24 days was actually more like 21 days. 

And with Thanksgiving around the corner and house guests coming, beds had to made up and meals planned.... 

Anyway, my point is that while I knew I wouldn't have much time, I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in which you pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days and something about signing up on that site and resolving to write the 50,000 words,

forced me to find the time to write the 50,000 words.

So, I did.

The End.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The woman in cabin 10 is not on my stairs

but I was listening to the audio book of that story while I was scraping other book titles off of my stairs.

You might be wondering at this point why I had book titles stuck to my stairs. The short answer is the previous owners of our new-old house had interesting decorating taste. Exhibit A: all of the door knobs in our house are faucets. Exhibit B: the large eyes stenciled on one of the dining room walls. Never mind the prison door in the garden. 

But Jody, people (ie my mother) would say to me, You love books!
Yes, Mom. I love books. I just don't happen to like book-title-decals stuck to my stairs.

Luckily, I had a good audio book to listen to while I was scraping them off. For the record, the work of scraping these decals was painstaking and slow. Basically, I had to use my fingernails. A paint scraper scratched up the wood. Ditto: a razor blade. Meanwhile, what was happening in The Woman in Cabin 10 was freaking me out.

The premise: a woman who has been traumatized by a robbery must go on a small cruise ship to write a story for a magazine. The woman in the cabin next door disappears the first night. The problem is that the cabin next door did not have a guest officially staying there and everyone aboard the ship is acting as if our main character must have imagined...

the woman in cabin ten.

A good audio book for heaving boulders out of a koi pond and yanking out the old rubber liner is Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith. This is the first book in a series about a down on his luck detective who gets pulled into solving a much more complicated and dangerous crime than he'd bargained on.

Side note: I was telling my model librarian friend about this book and she literally guessed the murderer within two seconds of my telling her the premise. I was like, no way! It can't be him!

Cut to: Me heaving a boulder on a ninety degree day and discovering that she was right!

Partially heaved out boulders in a now defunct koi pond.

If you need an absorbing and entertaining audio book for the day you are painting the orange dining room ceiling white, I highly recommend Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

This is a full blown production with different actors playing the various roles. The premise of the story is the rise and fall of a (made up) rock band in the 1970's, told in the form of interviews with the band members, sort of like a Behind the Music episode.

Orange ceiling, partially painted. (Eyes are not shown in the picture)

Eyes in the dining room, plus the eyes of my daughter's boyfriend

One audio book that I did not like as much, but yet, could not stop listening to as I painted the stairs (after scraping off the book titles) was Sunburn by Laura Lipman. The premise: a woman with a mysterious past meets a man with a mysterious past and, I know this was sort of the point, but still it bugged me-- you can never tell if the woman is good or bad or if the man is good or bad, and it was nerve wracking, honestly, wondering if they were going to kill each other or fall in love.

On the plus side, by the time I figured it all out, my work on the stairs was done.

Next up:

Removing the hot tub presently lodged in our basement. Anyone have any audio book recommendations for that?

Also: Anyone want the hot tub in our basement?

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Enter Colton. Or How a made-up renegade scientist dropped into my manuscript and broke through my writer's block

Last summer I was suffering from an acute case of writer's block.

It was a combination of being preoccupied by things Not Related to Writing (selling and buying a house, working a new job, having our college graduate daughter home for a few months) and things Writing-related. The writing-related part was that I'd finished revising a book after working on it for two years and realized that it still hadn't come together.

But just the thought of going back into the revision--  or starting something new felt paralyzing. 

My writing partner Natalie suggested that I try something completely different. A lot of my problem, she said, had to do with over-thinking and worrying about the stuff that was beyond my control (ie Publishing, or rather, in my case, Not publishing) and the end result was that writing was no longer bringing me joy.

Oh, she was right about that. Joy? haha. All I felt when I tried to sit down to write was dread. 

But Natalie, God love her, was not going to give up on me. She gave me an assignment. 

Each day for two weeks she wanted me to send her a pitch for a potential book. These could be any kind of book. Romances, thrillers, mysteries, whatever. The common denominator, however, was that these would be books I would never write. The point was to fool around, with no pressure. The more ridiculous the idea, the better.

I dutifully followed this advice, getting a little perfectionist-y about the first few pitches, but then relaxing and having a little fun with the assignment, despite myself, as the days went by. I was never going to write these books, I reasoned, so who cares. 

Example, Day Four, when I threw together this doozy:

The Seed Vault

When Maura snags an internship in London the summer before her senior year in college, she’s overjoyed. It’s a part-time position at a non-profit environmental agency that manages a seed vault, nothing too demanding or stressful, which should leave her plenty of time to explore and soak in European culture. 

But the moment she arrives in London, Maura finds herself caught up in an ever-growing climate-change-triggered nightmare. A record-breaking heatwave with temperatures soaring past an unheard of 115 degrees has turned Europe into a hell-scape. 

And then the rains start, at first welcomed as a relief from the heat, but then, feared as the entire continent begins to flood. 

It’s all hands on deck at the environmental agency, the staff frantic to protect the vault, one of the few places on earth that contains a sample of every seed, but with excessive flooding around the containment zone, the task seems impossible.

Enter Colton... 

He’s a renegade young scientist who’s been ostracized from the scientific community for his unorthodox views of climate and food production. Colton knows there is a way to save the seed bank, but it will involve blowing it up first. The others are skeptical, of course, but Maura finds Colton’s solution strangely compelling. That, and his piercing blue eyes. 

Together, Colton and Maura race against time to save the seeds… and the planet from destruction. 

Yeah. So the idea is ridiculous, of course, but it made me laugh. Suddenly, I really was having fun with writing-- even if I was only writing ideas for books I would never write. For a lot of these, I'd set up some crazy premise and then shake things up by Entering Colton, putting him into more absurd situations each day. 

But something interesting happened as I kept going with these pitches. A few of them didn't need Colton. A few of them were not completely silly.

And two were ideas that I could see myself actually developing. I wrote a potential first page for each one. 

And then I wrote a potential second page. 

Now, two months later I have written over 98 pages in each book, and no sign of slowing down yet. Thanks Colton! (And thank you, Natalie, for getting me back into my groove.)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Model Librarian

The best part about working at the library, (besides being around books/touching books/smelling books/helping patrons find books) is hanging around with the other people who work at the library-- the research librarian and the youth librarian who helped me with my writing projects are now my coworkers!--but I've also made some new friends.

LaNesha and I share front desk duty most days, and in between checking in books and checking out books and helping patrons get their library cards or work the fax machine, we've gotten to be good friends. LaNesha's a librarian, who also happens to be a model, a fascinating combo of careers that I am immediately curious about.

So of course I have to ask her:

Me: What came first, librarian or model?

LaNesha: I have always wanted to model ever since I was a little girl, but I never had the confidence. And I was very shy. My first modeling experience was during my Junior year of college. There was a modeling troupe putting on a fashion show and I decided to try out. I got such a good response from everyone and that encouraged me to keep going.

Me: And you were pursuing your library degree at the same time?

LaNesha: Not exactly. I initially majored in Chemistry. I wanted to be a pharmacist. But when I began my studies, I was so discouraged. It wasn’t interesting to me in the least and I was drastically failing chemistry! So I called my mom and I cried. I told her that I didn’t think this was the right fit for me and that I wanted to change my major. She told me, “If you find a job you like, you’ll never work a day in your life."

Me: I love that advice.

LaNesha: I know, right? It's stuck with me, and at the time, I realized that the one thing I loved since I was a child was reading. So I changed my major to English Literature and fell in love with books all over again. This was also around the time I started working in the library of my university. It changed my life and I couldn’t have been happier.

Me: What were your favorite books as a child?

LaNesha: Dr. Seuss books. My mom read them to me every night. Green Eggs and Ham was my most fav! And now my daughter loves this book so much too.

MeWhat do you like best about being a librarian?

LaNesha: Getting to see all the new books before everyone else does! But honestly, I love the impact libraries have on the community. This place inspires and creates a new generation of thinkers and I’m glad to be a part of that… to help shape the community into what we dream it to be.

Me: What about modeling? Because I have to say that the first time I met you, I was struck by how beautiful you are, but also, how very soft-spoken and reserved... and modeling seems like a career where you'd really have to put yourself out there.

LaNesha: That's what I enjoy about it. With my modeling I get a chance to be myself, freely, and in the spotlight. It’s kind of the direct opposite to who I am on a daily basis: an introverted bookworm who hates crowds.

Me: An introverted bookworm who loves clothes...

LaNesha: I do. I love mixing things up. Old things with new. Vintage shirts with skinny jeans. Bell bottoms with lace bodysuits. Not that I would wear that outfit to the library! But what's fun is expressing myself through fashion.

Me: This is all very fascinating to me because I could not be more opposite when it comes to fashion. Also, I hate shopping.

LaNesha: I love shopping. But I rarely shop in the mall. I mostly online shop. (This is where my introverted personality kicks in). My favorite online stores are Fashion Nova.com, BooHoo.com, and Misslola.com. If I do happen to go into the mall, I’ll maybe shop at Express or H & M. As for jewelry. I love anything gold and elegant.

Me: And make-up. Your make up is always gorgeous.

LaNesha: Thank you! I love playing around with it, mixing a bunch of colors together and coming up with a great new look. My favorite is cat eyes. I love cat eyes! It’s my signature look, I guess. Like Ariana Grande and her ponytail.

Me: I am proud to say that I understand this reference. Okay, now I have to ask you how you balance all of this-- librarian by day, photo shoots by night and on weekends? Plus, you have your little daughter. What's your typical day look like?

LaNesha: Whoa! – Do we have that much time? But seriously, here's a basic outline of how my day would go if I had a photo shoot and also had a shift at the library:

5:45-6:00 am : Me trying to wake up after I’ve pressed the snooze button four times already.
6:00-6:30 am: Start my makeup.
6:30-7:00 am: Chase my daughter out from under the table so that I can do her hair.
7:00-8:15 am: Finish makeup and hair, get dressed, head out for work.
8:30 am-5:30 pm: WORK …. (w/Jody! Yay!!! 😊 )
5:30-6:15 pm: Drive home, change clothes for shoot, refresh makeup
6:45-9:00 pm – Shooting for modeling
9:00-9:20 pm: Driving home from shoot
9:20-10:30 pm: Playtime with my daughter and then bath, stories, and bed.
10:30-12:30 am: Quality time with Clarence (my boyfriend).
5:45 am: Wake up with Sam’s Club size bags under my eyes and repeat!

Me: This is making me exhausted just reading it.

LaNesha: It's a good thing it's not every day.

Me: You forgot to include all of the time when you're reading. I know you've always got a book going.

LaNesha: I normally read three at once. Right now that's The Chain by Adrian McKinty, The Escape Room by Megan Goldin and Animal 3 by K’wan. Pretty dark stuff, I know...  And while I'm reading, just so you know, I'm wearing a cozy sweater and leggings. I love to dress up, but when I’m home, nothing feels better than a cozy sweater, no makeup, leggings, fuzzy socks, and a good book.

Me: We have this in common! One last question: What is the Instagram modeling contest you're competing in right now?

LaNesha: It's through Vogue. They're putting together a special Winter Issue with photographer Youss Foto and recruiting models via an Instagram contest. I sent in a few headshots, not thinking I would even be close to getting selected. To my surprise, I learned that I’d been shortlisted. How it works is the photographer is posting photos and people can vote for their favorite. There are lots of beautiful models on the shortlist, but I’m keeping my hopes high and my fingers crossed!

Me: I am going to check that out right now. And side note to my readers, if you're on Instagram and want to vote for this model librarian, see: @youssfoto. LaNesha's photo should be posted soon. In the meantime you can also follow her here: @unmistakablebeauty712

Thanks, LaNesha, so much for chatting with me today. And see you tomorrow at the library!

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Writing out loud

It's not often that I am surprised by a new writing technique. I thought I had heard them all, tips and tricks for writing through a first draft, breaking through writer's block, tackling a revision, you name it. I love hearing how other writers Do This.

A few years ago I was on an author panel with the lovely Edie Pattou, author of East, West, Ghosting, and Mrs. Spitzer's Garden. Edie hand-writes all of her novels, drafting in notebooks in the mornings and typing out her work in the afternoons. This idea was fascinating to me because I'd never hand-written a book. Even when I was in middle school I banged out my stories on a typewriter. 

But something I've learned over the years is that if you're stuck, it never hurts to try another way In. Hand-writing in pencil in a plain composition notebook, inspired by Edie, was just the trick I needed to break through a particularly painful revision. 

Unfortunately, this method didn't work for me on my next project. Another thing I've learned over the years: each book may want to be written in a different way. I know writers who figure out their process and they stick with it forever and God loves those people, but many writers I know have to try a new strategy every once in a while. 

So, if this is You, and you're stuck, I may have just the ticket:

Dictate the story to yourself. 

This gem comes straight from my friend Kristy Boyce, a YA author AND psychology professor AND mom. At our last meeting with the local SCBWI group (where Kristy is the Social Media Coordinator) she mentioned that because she is very short on time, how she writes her books is "Walking while talking into her phone." 

In one hour, she says, she can "write" 1000 words. 

How it works is you go to your Notes feature on your phone, start a new draft of a note, click the microphone icon and talk away. What you say is transcribed (sometimes not quite accurately, so be careful with that) and then you can email the transcribed file to yourself, a file that can then be copied and pasted into your Word doc. 

When Kristy explained this to our group, I was immediately excited about trying it. 

Cut to: Me, the next day, walking the dog. I looked around to make sure no one was in earshot, and off I went, "telling" myself the scene I was working on. Dialog, description, even pointing out where to add punctuation. A twenty minute walk gave me 300 mostly usable words to work with later. 

I admit I did feel a little strange doing this. And very self-conscious. But there was also something weirdly natural about it too...

And then it hit me why this idea did feel so natural. I used to write this way! Way way back when I was eight, nine, ten years old and kind of a weird little mess of a dreamy kid, I used to tell myself stories. I did this when I was walking to school and home, alone, whispering or maybe not whispering to myself. I have a vivid image of talking in third person, describing what my made up people were doing and saying. I think I waved my hands around while I was talking too, so I am sure if anyone happened to be driving by, they would wonder what the heck that strange little girl was doing. 

I wrote some of these stories down, but mostly, they were for me. 

And after all, what IS writing, anyway, but telling ourselves a story?