29 January 2012

On Death, Gratefulness, and the Writing of Novels

The house is dark and quiet. I'm still jetlagged, unable to stay up past 9pm and unable to sleep past six. Today is a full day, so I figured I might as well get up and get to it. Today, is the long awaited John Green Day. In a few hours, College Brother will be here from Corvallis and later this afternoon we'll adventure over to attend a book signing the likes of which I've never seen. And I've seen a lot...from the sad sort of events where no one shows up to the Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer Sold-Out Masterpiece. Stay tuned for a future blog post regarding this day.

I'll be honest here, this past week has been more than a little bit rough. I have been fortunate not to have experienced a lot of death in my life. The first real blow hit me when I was 13 and one of my best friends was hit by a car and killed. It took me a great long time to come to terms with losing Adam (the first boy I ever slow danced with) and there isn't a May 8th that goes by when I don't think about him.

I've lost two other grandparents. One had long term health issues and the other had cancer. I loved them both dearly. I don't want to diminish that in any way, but the relationship I had with Grandpa Shasky was different and I will miss him so very, very much. I am grateful I was able to get as much time with him as I did. 87 years is a pretty impressive run. I am grateful that I was able to go back and spend time with family and to have a work environment that allowed me to do so without a second thought. I am grateful for a staff that kept things going while I was away and made my reentry as painless as possible. I am grateful for my husband and for friends who've sent kind messages and loaned me suitcases at the last moment.

In short, I am very grateful, even though I might also be very sad.

In the midst of all this, I've still been able to keep my writing going. The novel has moved forward and I am bewildered to find I am somehow still on schedule. How it all happened, I am not exactly sure. I was talking to a work friend early yesterday morning and after we talked about work stuff, we started talking about life stuff and he asked me about my book. I began to talk about how this project has been so different than any of the others I've worked on over the years, how even coming home after a long day I can't wait to dive in and get started with the work, how the hours will fly by as I get lost in the words, in my words. There is a passion connected with this project that overwhelms and inspires me. I love that I love to work on it.

In fact...

23 January 2012

Grandpa Shasky 11/7/1924-1/19/2012

This past week, my grandfather passed away. He went into the hospital on Sunday with some chest pains, and on Thursday morning, he left us. I'm currently at a Fryin' Pan in Wahpeton, North Dakota (something akin to a Sherri's or a Denny's) to take advantage of their wifi and to get some breakfast and what passes for coffee.  (Desperate, I did a Starbucks search and came up with the previously unimaginable response "We're sorry, but no stores were found in your area.")

My grandfather was an amazing man, amazing father, amazing grandfather. I think it's still too hard for me to say much without getting overwhelmingly emotional. I'm tearing up over my hashbrowns as I type even that. The funeral is tomorrow and I don't know how I'm going to make it and I wish that my husband was able to be there with me. I don't know how I'm going to make it through, let alone read the Tennyson poem that I've been requested to read.

I have no doubt I'll write more about my grandfather in the days and months (and years) to come, but for now I'll leave you with some of his own words. My grandfather was a tailgunner on a B-17 during WWII and has been sharing stories over the past few years, which I am so grateful to have heard. A couple years ago, he gave me the collection of letters he'd written home to his parents and his brothers. I've transcribed them and have been slowly putting them together to share with the family. I had suspected the rest of the family did not know about these letters and as I brought a few along to share with them, my suspicions were confirmed. I feel so honored that he chose to share these with me.

Here is one I'll share with you. It's one of my favorites and gives me goosebumps to think about what it must have been like to celebrate V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day), especially as a soldier.

S/Sgt. Paul J. Shasky 37556523

487 Bomb Gp. 837 Bomb Sq.

A.P.O. 559 c/o P.M.

N.Y.C., New York

Mr. R.F. Shasky

Forman, North Dakota


                                                                                                May 12th, 1945

Dear Folks,

Believe it or not, England finally has warmed up. The past few days the sun has been shining and the temperature really went up. So now I’m beginning to wish they had issued me some suntans instead of only O.D.’s. One of these days I’ll probably be wishing just the other way around so it doesn’t make much difference.

My last letter I wrote was a little premature in the respect to the celebrating of V-E day. That night everything happened. I don’t know how many flares were actually shot up, but those Fourth of July celebrations with a fireworks display were just plain puny compared with this. From ten p.m. till one in the morning the base was lit up like daylights. The haystacks had been accidentally set on fire plus all those flares. Red, green, sparklers, and everything else. To top it off, it was practically impossible to find a sober guy in camp.

Well, I don’t have anything else of interest to discuss so will close. Though tomorrow they are having a huge air review consisting of every air arm in the E.T.O. I don’t have to fly, but my pilot will. It will pass over London, Brussels Paris, and a few other places. Really is going to be something to watch.

                                                                                    As always,


Taken when I went to visit the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. over Memorial Day 2010

15 January 2012

Snow? Snow!

If there isn't a Portlandia episode about how Portland deals with snow, there really ought to be. The last few days the buzz about town has been about the possibility of the first snow of the year/season. Forecasts promised, people of all ages dreamed, hope was hoped.

I'd kind of forgotten all about it until I woke up this morning. I hadn't even realized that I had gotten caught up in the dream until that moment I remembered and got out of bed, anticipating the pull back of the curtains to reveal the transformation of my boring old neighborhood into a magnificent white winter wonderland!

Nope. Same old boring neighborhood was there when I let the dog out to attend her morning business meeting.

But! Then! When I let Zelda in? I noticed big giant white flakes of snow falling from a blue-tinted silver sky! It was beautiful and I felt the eager school kid inside of me giddy with the excitement of it all. It was snowing!

By the time I turned ten, I was living in my fifth state of the union. Prior to settling in Oregon the January of my 4th grade year, I had lived in Kansas, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Colorado. The majority of those states are fairly comfortable with snow. In Minnesota, I remember walking to school in such conditions that my wet hair would freeze as I plowed my way through a foot of freshly fallen snow.

Early on in our Oregon experience, I remember the first time it snowed. A few inches settled upon the land, my dad left for work and I walked to wait for the school bus.

And waited.

And waited.


After about a half an hour, with nearly no cars driving up the hill (or down), I went back home. My dad must have called (since these were the days before mobile phones and I would have been unable to reach him) and told me that school had been cancelled. My first thought was, "Why?"

It's still snowing somewhat sporadically, giant chunky flakes landing on the ground and vanishing as if they never were.

I don't know what the rest of the day will bring, if any of it will last, if any snowmen and snowwomen will be built, but I'll bet if I turn on the news I'd find newsy people perched on overpasses, reporting on the conditions.

Instead, I think I'll get back to the editing work, which has been a slow and satisfying process.

Zelda playing in our 2011 snow

11 January 2012

Away and Home

Thinking I could get through 200 some pages of editing while I was at the coast was...apparently...beyond ambitious. I've calculated that I edit at the rate of approximately 10 pages per hour. The section that I'm working on now is 220 pages, which, divided by 10, equals approximately twenty two hours of editing. Even if I divided that equally amongst my three nights, that's a little more than seven hours a day...and there was sunshine...

But I shall make no excuses!

There were books to be read, an ocean to be gazed upon, naps to be enjoyed, fine food to be dined upon, drinks to be drunk, memories to be made. Even so, I did get a nice chunk of work done. I've surpassed the halfway point and am still as excited and motivated as ever to continue on.

The time away has been good for me, but it's nice to be home again with a black dog leaning against my leg and using her nose to flick my wrist off the keyboard. It's good to do laundry, eat dinner in, sleep in my own bed, practice my ukulele.

Sometimes I think we go away so we can greater appreciate coming home.

And sometimes I think it's just nice to go away.

Rereading John Green's Looking for Alaska while I waited for The Fault in Our Stars

07 January 2012

To the Beach! And an update on The John Green Catastrophe

It is finally here! The holiday I have been waiting for! The post-Christmas, post-New Year's comp time that I most definitely earned. Tomorrow morning, amazingly wonderful husband and I will take off for a wonderful 3 night/4 day stay at our favoritest place on the Oregon Coast. To say I am looking forward to it, would be a gross understatement. To say I have been living for it, would be a bit closer to the truth.

Over the past week I've been (slowly) working through the first 30 pages of my manuscript, inputting edits I'd made to the print copy back in October. The time away has been good and the most creepy and satisfying bit is when I'll be reading through and thinking of a correction and then I'll look down on the paper and there it is, already noted by the Me From Three Months Ago. It makes me feel like I'm on the right track.

What I'm trying hard not to feel is overwhelmed. There are a great many changes that need (and will) happen with these words and with these pages. Right now I've been struggling with where to begin. Part of me wants to simply dive right into the heart of it and the other part of me wants to take it slowly, to work page by page. So far, page by page is winning out. My goal, for this time at the beach, is to get through the first 220 pages of edits and then begin the merging of the two year's projects and to start a similar editing process for the second half. Soon I'm going to need/want some more readers and I'd like to have the manuscript in good enough shape for that by March.

Since my Christmas Day blog (to date, the most viewed blog of mine...and still getting views) about the John Green Catastrophe* (as I'm, with great sadness, referring to it now), I haven't been able to let it go. That week between Christmas and New Year's, the whole situation was still really bothering me. Mistakes were made and I felt horrible for how John Green was feeling and what he was going through because of a mistake my company made. So I sent an email to a contact in the corporate office.

Then waited.

I didn't have to wait very long before she responded, delegating the task to someone else within our corporate structure. Over the past week, that someone and myself have played phone tag. Yesterday we finally got to talk. Turns out the story is much more complicated than John Green (and by extension myself and the rest of the world) knew. Apparently the mistake of the pre-orders shipping early from bn.com was NOT Barnes & Noble's fault, but the publisher's.

I have no great grasp for how the management of an SOS (Strict-on-Sale) title between the publisher and the seller goes, but I trust that at this point, my source, having done her research to prepare for a possible apology, knows what's going on. This makes even more sense as reports of other bookstores around the country have put the book out on their shelves early.

Barnes & Noble will still be reaching out to Mr. Green because we do care, but it can't be an apology for messing up.

This week, stage 2 of the John Green Catastrophe went into effect. The signed pre-orders. John Green committed to sign every single copy of the entire first print run, some 150,000 books. It's been kind of a big deal. Lots of fans/readers have been asking questions about where they can get their signed pre-orders and when they have to pre-order to get their signed copy. The answer has always been something along the lines of, "Don't worry. All the books will be signed no matter where you get them. You could even walk into a bookstore on January 10th and one will be waiting for you."

Turns out, someone (fingers pointing towards the publisher), messed up.

We received our stock of the book this past Thursday (which we will, in turn, begin selling on January 10th). Of that initial shipment, only 38% of the copies were signed. I went through and made sure that the pre-orders DID get one of the signed copies, especially the very sweet teenage girl who came in a week early just to make sure she was going to be able to get it on the release day. We had a lovely conversation about how excited we were to finally be able to read the book and how awesome John Green is.

I do still feel horrible for John Green who is, according to his tweets, not sleeping. I feel horrible that this has not been the release he was hoping for. But at least his fans have been incredibly supportive and good natured about the whole thing.

*It almost sounds like a band name a la The Jane Austen Argument 

Read upon David Levithan's suggestion. He has yet to steer me wrong.

The postings on this site are my own and do not represent Barnes & Noble's positions, strategies, or opinions.

01 January 2012

Good Morning, 2012!

I am a fan of round numbers (like zeros and eights with their lovely shapes). I am also a fan of even numbers (2,4,6,8 who do we appreciate? Even numbers!) Maybe this is why (along with a Mayan predicted Apocalypse) I have been so looking forward to the start of 2012. It's one of those years that stands out in the progression of time. Like 1994 (high school graduation) and 1998 (college). 2000 was another such year with all its pretty zeros and the pending doom of Y2K.

It was in the fall of 2000 I went to Guatemala for two weeks. While I was there I visited the Mayan Ruins at Tikal and learned, for the first time about the Mayan calendar. I was fascinated. I spent a few years doing bits of research here and there, but was surprised that there wasn't more mainstream attention/interest. A few years later, that all changed and before I knew it I was seeing book displays for 2012 and movies and horrible documentaries. Has anyone written a song yet? We really should party like it's 2012...and now that I've got my ukulele (and maybe 3-4 chords nailed) I'll get on that.

I'm happy right now. What a lucky place to be. I am looking forward to this year...personally, professionally, hopefully. I started out this day with what I'm thinking will be a new annual tradition (this was year two). David Levithan (editor, writer, inspire-er) takes a photograph every day and then on New Year's he sets the photos to music and puts together a lovely video slideshow (viewed here). I could watch it over and over again. It inspires me.

I've never been one to keep a list of books I've read. I guess I've always felt like that's what my library is for (but then again, I do borrow ever so many books from work). Over the past month, I've been contemplating starting a list of books for 2012, but thinking about the photo diary that David Levithan keeps, I think, instead, I will photograph each book I read and then at the end of the year, I will put together some kind of photo collage/video to celebrate it. What fun! And way cooler than a boring old list...

This past week, I finally had a day (and a half) off. I spent it catching up on life's business (cleaning, laundry, bills, groceries) and I savored it reading and editing. I read an absolutely brilliant book by Portlander Laini Taylor called Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It is honestly, one of the most thrilling (for its language, its characters, its plot) that I have read in a really long time. Though classified by its publishers as Teen/Young Adult, the book transcends such labels (for a variety of reasons). I fell head over heels in love with this book.
"For the way loneliness is worse when you return to it after a reprieve--like the soul's version of putting on a wet bathing suit, clammy and miserable."
The book is just filled with these wonderful thoughts, ideas, feelings, phrasings. I didn't want it to end! And because it literally ends with "To be continued..." it hasn't. Warning: Next book isn't out until the fall of 2012.

2011 wasn't so bad, looking back. Three highlights I saw/did/loved from various categories:

Live Music: Neil Gaiman/Amanda Palmer, TMBG, Josh Ritter
Bookish Events: Neil Gaiman/Amanda Palmer, Josh Ritter, David Levithan
Television: Doctor Who (seriously, what took me so long!), Downton Abbey, Glee
Books: Domestic Violets, The Night Circus, Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Albums: Iron & Wine's Kiss Each Other Clean, My Morning Jacket's Circuital and The Decemberists The King is Dead

Lucky for me, 2012 has some things I'm very much looking forward to and fortunately, I don't have to wait long for them...January is already filled with such wonderful things! What I'm looking forward to most? My extended weekend (in one week!) to my most favorite place on the Oregon Coast, John Green's new book on the 10th (officially) The Fault in Our Stars, Thanksgiving in January, and getting to see John Green on the 29th!

More than anything though, what I'm appreciating most about this new month in this new year, is time. 2011 taught me a very important lesson in how much can be done with the time you have. In 2012 I hope to put that lesson into practice. I am looking forward to seeing all that I can accomplish.

The first book I will finish in 2012