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July 2016



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May. 20th, 2016


Carpe diem

I've had busy weekends lately, and the chores I usually do on weekends have been piling up, waiting for me to have a block of open time.

That would be this weekend. I had Friday off from the day job, so it's even a three-day weekend. Not that I don't have plenty of things to fill it up with.

But today was also one of the few days we've had all month of warm, sunny weather. Mostly we have been dragging around here, shivering in the cold rain, forgetting for weeks at a time what the sun even looked like. And tomorrow it's supposed to be wet and cold again.

So after this morning's writing session, I glanced at my long to-do list. I looked outside. And I grabbed my husband and we went on a hike.

Then this afternoon, I took an hour to read on the front porch, which is one of my favorite things to do, and can only be done "in season."

My to-do list is still long. But I regret nothing.

May. 15th, 2016


Support your local library

Some years ago, I used to do a blog comment challenge to raise money for my local library, and I got other bloggers to join me. Basically, we pledged to donate to our local libraries for each comment or tweet we got. We used it to raise consciousness as well as money.

That was the heyday of blogs, and I haven't done the challenge since social media splintered into a kajillion different platforms, but I still donate to my local library each spring.

And in that spirit, I'd like to encourage you to support your local library, if you have one and appreciate what it brings to the community. There are many ways to contribute beyond monetary donations. Here are some:

1. Donate money to the library and/or Friends of Library group.
2. Volunteer time at the library, friends group, or library board.
3. Donate books and other materials (but check first to see what the library accepts; not all libraries are able to accept all materials).
4. Write to your local officials (at whatever level of government funds your library) and express your support for the library.
5. Attend local-government meetings at which library funding is discussed and voted on.

And the most fun way: Use your library! Circulation statistics may help demonstrate the need for the library with hard numbers.

We usually think of books first when it comes to libraries, but libraries do so much more nowadays. Including:

Lending movies, music, magazines, ebooks, museum passes, tools, and other objects.
Hosting workshops on a variety of topics (citizenship classes, job hunting, estate planning, history lectures, etc.)
Hosting arts and crafts workshops and "makerspaces."
Having book clubs and summer reading programs.
Providing community meeting rooms.
Showing movies.
Providing free computers and internet for onsite use.
Hosting a community garden and teaching kids about organic gardening.
Hosting story time for kids.
Et cetera!

May. 9th, 2016



"It was essential to feel thankful for the few who stopped to watch or listen, instead of wasting energy on resenting the majority who passed me by. ... All I needed was ... some people. Enough people. Enough to make it worth coming back the next day, enough to make rent and put food on the table. And enough so I could keep making art."
--Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking

In this book, Palmer writes a lot about finding your audience, and how that audience doesn't necessarily need to be (in fact, it probably can't be) every single person. She relies on this conclusion: "Given the opportunity, some small consistent portion of the population will happily pay for art" (emphasis in original).

This is a model that rivals the blockbuster-or-bust mindset. It's about patience, and diligence, and trust, and about asking ourselves what is enough.

May. 1st, 2016



Along with the serious work of writing--the construction of plot, the research, the emotional delving, the observation, the rereading and cutting and rewriting, the double-checking--it's important to keep sight of the fun in it. "Fun" may be a relative term when our subject matter is deeply tragic, or purely informational (like an instruction manual), or when we're racing a deadline.

But writing is creative work, and some of our best writing may come from playing. From word games, fun exercises, creative risks. From asking "What if?" or procrastinating on another project by starting something new. From pursuing the project we want rather than the one we ought be be tackling. Experimenting, trying a new genre or style or medium, mixing it up. Remembering the love of words and stories and characters that brought us to this crazy avocation in the first place.

Apr. 27th, 2016


On impulse

At YA Outside the Lines this month, we're blogging about foolish things. I reminisced about some foolish trips to the beach on April days.

That's the thing about being spontaneous; things don't always go as planned. But sometimes you gotta try. Sometimes just breaking the routine is worth it.

Apr. 24th, 2016


Yeah, I meant to do that

"Talking about art requires artists to sound purposeful and sure of themselves, but she'd never felt that way. Over the years she'd made up a lot of reasons because people didn't seem to like the arbitrariness of the reality."
--Still Life with Bread Crumbs, Anna Quindlen

I think most writers do have plans and purpose, but it may not always be what readers see, and readers may find connections we didn't (consciously) intend. But I like this quote because it speaks to the intuitive part of art-making. I don't find writing to be a wholly calculated, wholly intellectual exercise, but to include some of what Quindlen's character thinks of as "arbitrariness," which we may also call "inspiration."

Apr. 22nd, 2016


Same character, different audience ages

A writing student asked me if it's possible to write a publishable story about a character at a young age, for young readers, and then write about the same character at an older phase of life for older readers. Several years ago, I would have said probably not, but by now I've seen a few examples--and of course, now self-publishing is a more viable option than it used to be.

I've heard it argued that the Harry Potter books advance from middle-grade through young-adult. Author Brent Hartinger has taken his YA character, Russel Middlebrook (of Geography Club and its three sequels) into some new-adult books featuring the character in early adulthood (The Thing I Didn't Know I Didn't Know and its sequels). Hartinger refers to the new-adult phase of the character's life as the "Futon Years." (For other characters, this phase of life might be referred to as the Dorm Years, the Studio Apartment Years, the Living with Roommates Years, or the Sleeping on Someone's Couch Years.)

Recently, thanks to a post on the Read is the New Black site, I was reminded of my affection for Marilyn Sachs's books, and I discovered she has a sequel to an old favorite of mine, A Pocket Full of Seeds. That book took its main character from early childhood through the age of thirteen, and the sequel takes her from age thirteen to seventeen. Even though the books are billed as being for the same age reader (grades 5 through 8), I suspect that the sequel, Lost in America, would appeal to somewhat older readers. I plan to check it out.

Anyway, the point is that the rigidity of expectations about audience and branding, and how older people won't read books for younger people and so on, is fading. You may know of even more examples than the ones I've been able to find. Even though it still might be unusual to take a character into different audience age ranges, it's not unthinkable. And the conventions that traditional publishing houses and booksellers still follow don't have to apply to anyone who self-publishes.

Apr. 20th, 2016


Ever shifting, ever elusive

Jeannine Atkins writes of the slow strange process of fiction writing, of groping for the story we want to write, mean to write, and must accept our imperfections in pursuing.

Natalie Whipple writes of each book's tendency to come out in its own way, of how the process differs from book to book. I too have been frustrated on occasion with each book's insistence on being a special snowflake in the way it arrives, but it really shouldn't be a surprise. We change, our lives change, and the things we need to write about change.

If each story came out perfectly, the same way each time, it would certainly be easier on us, but easy isn't the point. I won't go as far as John F. Kennedy did in his moon speech, saying that we do this because it is hard, either. It is just necessary--somehow, some way.

Apr. 15th, 2016


Look at this

Here's another quote I wanted to remember from Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, ed. by Meredith Maran. This one is fromJames McBride:

"You don’t write it to show how smart you are or how dumb they are. You’re trying to share from a sense of humbleness."

It is in the same ballpark as this one from Darin Strauss in the same book:

"If nonfiction is any good, it has to be harder on the protagonist than on anybody else."

I think these quotes apply not only to memoir but to fiction as well, and they dovetail with the advice not to protect your characters too much. There's a vulnerability in sharing a story. Reading the written word is in some ways an intimate act; it's like a whisper in the ear. "Look what I discovered," the writer tells the reader, not in a boastful way, but in the way one person might call another to a window to see a rainbow, a tornado, a falling star. Look at this amazing world we live in; this scary, funny, perplexing, beautiful, horrifying, sweet, mysterious world.

Apr. 10th, 2016


The joy

Here's an uplifting quote from Sue Monk Kidd: "Writing is an amazing way to spend your life. It helps to be grateful for that, to stand in awe of it a little."

It appears in Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, ed. by Meredith Maran.

It's just a reminder that with all of the frustrations of writing--the second-guessing, the uncertainty, the plots and characters that won't behave, the wondering whether anyone will care--there is joy. The joy of finding meaning in life and conveying it somehow, of reaching out to others in the hope of sharing a vision, of informing or entertaining. The joy of connecting with those around us.

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