Posted in Reading

Because I Was Reading

A few years ago, I convinced myself that I knew my books (all 700-ish of them) so well that I could identify them merely by touch. I sat on the couch with my eyes closed and my hands over my ears while my husband brought me five books at a time. Then, keeping my eyes closed, I ran my hands over the covers, flipped the pages, felt for bookmarks, inhaled their scents, and generally absorbed their bookiness through my pores before making my guess.

I didn’t get a single one right.

This was very disappointing and also somewhat embarrassing, and the “See-you’re-crazy-I-told-you-so” smirk on my husband’s face only made matters worse. However, I still maintain that I know SOME of my books that well. He obviously just didn’t bring me the right ones.

Whether or not I know my books as well as I thought, it doesn’t take away from how much I love them. Reading is still my favorite thing to do, and I did it a lot in 2017, finishing 60 books that spanned fiction, nonfiction, YA, middle grade, adult, children’s, poetry, short stories, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, realistic fiction, historical fiction, comedy, classics, graphic novels, comics, audio books, and novels in verse. Whew! I consider that a job well done.

However, dedicating the hours necessary to finish 60 books in a year does mean there are times when other areas of life are neglected.

Chances are…

If you called me and I didn’t answer, it’s because I was reading.

If I showed up a little late to your gathering, it’s because I was reading.

If I left the tea kettle whistling until the water boiled away, it’s because I was reading.

If I forgot to feed the dog, it’s because I was reading.

If an announcement about a delayed flight made me smile, it’s because I was reading.

If I had tears in my eyes at a coffee shop, it’s because I was reading.

If I didn’t realize a cat had crawled into my lap, it’s because I was reading.

And if I fell asleep on the couch with the light on and a bookmark stuck to my face, it’s because I was reading.

BecauseIWasReading
A few of my favorite 2017 reading spots (& reading companions)

In fact, the reason why this post didn’t come out on December 31st like I planned, is because I was reading. I was determined to finish one more book before the end of the year. (And I did.)

So, the question is… WHAT was I reading?

I read a lot of things last year, and I liked most of them. Here are a few favorites. (For a full list of what I read, check out my Goodreads page.)

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* The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud – An excellent end to an amazing series. Read my full review of this fifth and final book in the Lockwood & Co. series here.

Print* Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick – Sonnenblick has outdone himself with this novel. I didn’t think I’d ever love any of his books more than Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, but Falling Over Sideways got it just right. Just absolutely perfectly right. An excellent read for middle schoolers, parents, teachers, and anyone who loves a good story.

25814154* The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell – I can’t express how much I loved The Madwoman Upstairs. It’s everything I wanted and needed from a summer read. Wit. Charm. Passionate book discussions. Literary scavenger hunts. Scandals. Secrets. A creepy old tower. The Brontes. This novel had it all. I listened to it on audio, read by Katie Koster, and it was fantastic. So fantastic, I bought the paper copy. Now I’m tempted to start over and read it again. So good.

24902132* Leaf and Beak: Sonnets by Scott Wiggerman – This poetry collection sat on my shelf for too long before I finally read it. Now, I don’t know why I waited. The sonnets follow the poet on his daily walks around his Austin neighborhood and are organized by the seasons, but there is nothing trite or expected from these elegant poems. The sonnets are both vivid and subtle, allowing the reader to stroll pleasantly through the verse while also inspiring her/him to pause and reflect at regular intervals. An excellent collection.

920607* The Arrival by Shaun Tan – Is it possible to “read” a book with no words? If you don’t think so, then you haven’t read The Arrival. This wordless story of a man leaving his homeland for a new country communicates the immigrant experience in a beautiful, intimate way.

17465707* Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro – I bought this book based on its adorable cover, and the inside didn’t disappoint. Still Writing is written in short essays, anecdotes, and tips. It reads easily and is a positive and encouraging take on the writing craft, while also being realistic. I took a lot of notes while reading it and put it down to write multiple times. (That’s how you know a writing book is good—it makes you WRITE.)

23203257* Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart – Lily, a transgender girl, and Dunkin, a boy with bipolar disorder, are both struggling through 8th grade. Their friendship will tug at your heart. At least, it tugged at mine.

19364719* Slasher Girls & Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke – This anthology of teen horror stories by some of today’s best YA authors is way more gruesome and creepy and dark than I expected. I liked almost all of the stories, and several stayed with me long after I finished them, especially “In the Forest Dark and Deep” by Carrie Ryan. Thanks to that story, I’ll never be able to watch Alice in Wonderland without cringing again.

22840421* My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows – This book CRACKED. ME. UP. It’s a historical fantasy comedy romance. (Yeah, that’s a thing.) It’s like… if Game of Thrones met The Princess Bride except half the characters could turn into animals. You know what, just read it.

12948* (Not a favorite, but still one I want to mention) – The last book I read in 2017, the one I finished just a few hours before midnight, was The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, and I can’t decide what I think of it. I’m keeping my thoughts to myself for now because my book club will be discussing this classic horror novel in a couple of weeks, and I don’t want to give away all my conversation topics here, but I would love to know what others thought of it. Have you read it? Did you like it? (I promise not to steal your opinions for my book club. All clever critiques will be duly attributed during our discussion, I promise.)

So… the next question is… What will I read THIS year?

I hesitate to even post these titles because, if history is any indicator, books that I put on my “must-read” list often meet with procrastination, forgetfulness, or disappointment. But this year’s list is a winner, I can feel it. Here are ten books I definitely want to burrow into in 2018:

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  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (I already started this one and am enjoying it so far.)
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (This has been on my reading list for years. A friend gave me a beautiful purple copy for Christmas, so now I have no reason not to dive in.)
  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (No, I’ve never read it. Don’t shun me. A student gave me a copy—again a gorgeous one—so I’m going to give this classic a try.)
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (My friend recommended this book. The summary sounds just as strange as the title. Wonderfully strange! I’m so excited to read it.)
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (I’ve watched this author’s TED talks and read her interviews. Everything she says is eloquent and gorgeous, so I expect her book will be the same.)
  • Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman (This has also been on my reading list for years. It feels like time to read it.)
  • Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford (I got this sequel to one of my favorite middle grade novels for my birthday but haven’t made time for it yet. I can’t wait to see what Milo is up to.)
  • Dreadnought by April Daniels (I’ve heard great things about this YA novel about a transgender superhero.)
  • Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey (Nova Ren Suma recommended this book during my workshop with her at Highlights. I don’t remember why anymore, but when Nova Ren Suma recommends something, you read it.)
  • The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming (A student highly recommended this book to me, and it meets my goals of reading more nonfiction and reading outside my comfort zone. Plus, the girl is brilliant, so I trust her.)

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Well, there you have it. Books, books, and more books. I’d love to hear about your own reading achievements. What was your favorite read in 2017? What are your goals for 2018? And tell me what you thought of The Turn of the Screw! (It’s ok. You can be honest.)

Posted in Life, Writing

Tip #8: Share Carefully

A couple of weeks ago, I posted seven Tips for Taking the Stress Out of New Year’s Resolutions, and today I want to add one bonus piece of advice.

At this point, you’ve celebrated your accomplishments from last year and have made a list of balanced, attainable goals/resolutions/intentions/wishes for 2015. (Right? If not, there’s still time. After all, Tip #3 is Ignore the Calendar.)

Now what?

MyList

Tip #8 = Share Carefully

In life, there’s a fine line between sharing too much and sharing too little and I’m usually on the TMI side of it. I’ve learned the hard way that sharing my resolutions with everybody is a bad idea. After all, it’s possible that you won’t accomplish all of your goals this year, especially if you end up accomplishing new things that you didn’t even set out to do. It happens, and being flexible is okay. But it’s hard to remember that when people keep asking you about x and you’ve already moved on to y. It can lead to some awkward conversations. So remember that it’s okay to keep some things to yourself.

Then again, if you don’t share your resolutions with anybody, it becomes pretty easy to pretend they don’t exist, and that’s not good either. You need to have someone in your life who asks how things are going once in a while and helps keep you accountable.

My advice is share, but share carefully. The exact formula is up to you, but I like to share all my resolutions with one person (my husband gets to be the lucky recipient of the full list) and I choose a few select goals to share with the world. (Click here to see the ones I shared last year. I get three checks and a check-minus for that list. Not too shabby.)

Here are the resolutions I want everybody to know about for 2015:

* I will complete my first poetry manuscript and submit it to a contest.
* I will read at least 50 books. Some of the titles on my must-read list are:

The Shining by Stephen King
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural, edited by Marvin Kaye
(I’ve been picking my way through this anthology for a couple of years now. It’s time to finish it.)

* I will participate in the World Horror Convention in Atlanta in May. (Note: This does not say I will “go” to the convention. I’m already going. I’ve got tickets and plane reservations and a hotel room and a posse of two writer friends to travel with. It’s a done deal. My resolution is to participate. When you fly across the country to hang out with other lovers of horror, that’s no time to be shy. I plan to be present every second of the weekend and soak up as much inspiration as possible.)
* I will continue to monitor my use of have to, need to, and want to. (<– This is the best resolution I’ve ever made, and I make it again every year. Read about how it started here.)

Feel free to check in now and then and ask me how things are going. And if you have a resolution you want to share with the world, post it in the comments below!

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NOTE: This blog turns one year old this weekend! To celebrate, I updated the About page and added a FAQ tab. Head over there to find out if you’ve been pronouncing my last name correctly in your head. Chances are, you haven’t. 🙂

Posted in Life, Writing

7 Tips for Taking the Stress Out of New Year’s Resolutions

Resolutions

To Resolve or Not to Resolve, That is the Question 

It’s that time of year again, the time of looking ahead, writing lists, setting goals, making resolutions. At least for some people. For others, the mere mention of the R word brings them stress.

If you’re one of those reluctant resolvers, jaded from past experiences, you should know you’re not alone. The fear of not being able to put a checkmark next to each goal at the end of the year keeps many people from making a list at all.

But, despite the possibility of disappointment, I still say resolve. Setting goals and working toward positive changes in your life and your work is good for you. Just do it in a way that allows for success without setting yourself up for failure. Here are some things that have worked for me.

Tips for Taking the Stress Out of New Year’s Resolutions

Celebrate

1. Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Before you make plans for 2015, take some time to celebrate the good stuff from this year. Whether you made resolutions for 2014 or not, make a list of 10 things you accomplished during the year. Then go look at your goals (if you had any) and compare. Even if there aren’t many checkmarks on the initial list, you now have a new one to be proud of. Keep it next to the one you make for the new year.

Some of my 2014 accomplishments were…

* According to Goodreads, I read 80 books this year, a personal record.
* I finished the first draft of my novel and pitched it to agents at my first writing conference.
* I learned to cook six new vegetarian dishes, including Rumbledethumps.
* I started this blog. (Click here to read my first post.)

2. Use a Thesaurus

If you’ve had bad experiences in your past with New Year’s resolutions, then it’s possible the word itself makes your skin crawl. So don’t use it. Set goals instead. Or intentions. Or plans. Or wishes even. That’s not exactly the same thing, but who cares? Think about how psyched you’ll be at the end of 2015 if you can tell people that some of your wishes came true this year. Pretty cool, right?

3. Ignore the Calendar

There is no day of the year with more pressure on its poor shoulders than December 31st. Think about it: Christmas was just a few days ago and you’re still full of pecan pie and gingerbread cookies, so you’re trying to function through a sugar haze. It’s possible you’ve been traveling and have just arrived home to an empty fridge and a full laundry basket. Or maybe you’re still on vacation and just now realizing that you didn’t pack enough underwear. If you’re young and single, December 31st means figuring out which party to go to, determining what to wear, and wondering whom you might kiss. If you’re not so young and married like me, it means figuring out what movie to watch on Netflix, determining exactly how many minutes you have to stay up after midnight before you can go to bed, and wondering if it’s okay to put on your pjs before the ball drops in New York. And somewhere in this champagne-addled state, you’re supposed to be thinking about New Year’s resolutions.

It’s just too much.

So forget it. Enjoy your New Year’s Eve. Drink champagne and kiss people and watch bad movies and fall asleep on the couch and be merry and stay safe. The resolutions can wait. Make them whenever you want. There’s not really an expiration date. For a few years in a row I found January 8th to be an auspicious day for goal-setting. Last year I went traditional and made my list on the first, but then I added a few more things on the twelfth and lightning didn’t strike me down or anything. So take your time. It’s okay.

4. Stack the Deck in Your Favor

You may not accomplish all of your goals. It’s true, and it’s something you should accept from the start. If it happens, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure, just that you need more time or more practice or a more appropriate objective. But you can give yourself a better chance of succeeding by making your goals attainable.

For instance, if you’re a writer, don’t resolve to publish a certain number of poems or stories. That’s not really something you have control over. Instead, resolve to submit a certain number. That keeps the reins in your hands.

5. Balance the Scales

Let your resolutions (or intentions or wishes) reflect all aspects of your life. Don’t just set goals about your health or your work or your relationship. Your life is a combination of all of those things and more. If you’re a writer and your goal list is full of nothing but drafts and pages and submissions, then there’s a good chance that every time you do anything else, you’re going to feel guilty about it. Then again, if your resolutions are full of places you want to travel and exotic foods you want to eat, you may be setting yourself up for an unproductive year. Find a balance in your to-do list so that no matter what aspect of your life you’re focusing on at the moment, you can still be working toward your goals.

6. Give Yourself Some Space

Some people keep their resolutions in plain sight—on the fridge or over their workspace—as a constant reminder of their priorities. I do not. I don’t like my goals staring me in the face every day, making me feel guilty about taking a nap or checking Facebook. I need a little distance between my list and my life. But not too much. Sticking your resolutions on a shelf and ignoring them until next December won’t work either. I suggest keeping them at arm’s reach, literally. Mine are in a closed journal on my desk, so they’re not glaring at me when I first walk in the room, but they’re close enough for me to reach over and check on them anytime I want. They’re out of sight, but not out of mind.

7. Embrace the Present Moment

During all the looking forward and looking back that happens at this time of year, don’t forget to stop once in a while and just look around you. What are you doing? Who are you with? How do you feel?

Right now, it’s 11:45pm on December 30th. I’m drinking a cup of decaf coffee out of my new Christmas mug and listening to Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” while I type this blog post at my desk. My blinds are open despite the late hour and I can see the colored lights on the bushes outside, swaying slightly in the cold wind. My cat is taking a bath on the bed behind me and I know that any minute now he’s going to jump in my lap and try to edit what I’m writing. I just heard my husband sneeze. This is my present moment. No matter what I accomplished this year, no matter what might happen when I change the calendar to January, right now I’m at home and I’m writing and I’m happy.

What’s happening right now is just as important as anything on your list. After all, those goals won’t accomplish themselves. In order to earn some checkmarks at the end of the year, you’re going to have to spend some of your present moments working toward them. You can do it.

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Good Luck and Happy New Year!