18 December 2013


I can't remember the last time I sat down with my laptop for the express purpose of writing. But this morning is free, this morning is mine. I have no place calling my name until the afternoon and there is nothing I'd rather be doing.

I've missed this time.
I've needed this time.

November feels like a dream. I can only remember glimpses and moments. I remember those days at the beach as if they were a fantasy my mind created. Those memories feel like a fog, thick and present and impossible to hold onto, so easily carried away by the breeze.

Now, somehow, it's the 18th of December. We are a week away from Christmas and time like this, time to sit and think, write and sip my coffee while listening to music, time like this feels like the greatest luxury. It is a gift greater than money, greater than jewels, greater than any item on my wish list.

There hasn't been much of an opportunity to look back at those 50,000+ words I wrote last month. But I've been missing Violet, her story, her world. I'm glad to have some time to spend with her, even if it's only an hour or two.

28 November 2013


The hour is early. The sun is finally flirting with the horizon and soon it will be morning. I've got a cup of coffee in a lovely mug crafted by two people I love who love me in return. I've got my good headphones on and I'm listening to some of my favorite Josh Ritter songs and it's hard not to be hopeful.

I have a good life. A really good life. There have been times that have been better than others. I've had my share of tragedies and heartache. Tough times. But the good has always outweighed the bad and in the end, I always come up feeling grateful, thankful.

Today is Thanksgiving and I can't help but think of all the reasons I am fortunate. I think of them often, I truly do, but once a year I like to list them. 

I am thankful for all the people who take the time, energy, effort, and faith to follow their creative path. Whether you're Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Josh Ritter, J.K. Rowling, or somebody trying NaNoWriMo for the first time. Whether you write, draw, sing, make ceramics, knit, or take photographs, to do the things you love to do, that you need to do, is not always easy. It doesn't matter whether or not you share your work with the world. Sometimes following a dream is the most daring, courageous thing you can do.

I am thankful for the privilege of having spent time and conversation with some of my favorite authors over the past year. I have been inspired. I have been challenged. I have laughed. I have felt hopeful.

I am thankful for being able to buy books and the time to read them, think about them, share them.

I am thankful for friends and family who are generous with their time and with their love. Friends and family who make me laugh and remember that I'm not alone on this journey.

I am thankful for a husband who loves me and who I find myself loving more and more, who makes me laugh and who has patience enough to understand and accept me, despite any faults.

I am thankful for the sweetest, kindest, funniest, cuddliest black dog in the world.

I am thankful for the Nerdist Podcast for making me laugh, challenging me to explore new interests, and for making my commute infinitely more rewarding.

I am thankful for LeakyCon and the way it brings such an interesting community of people together to share their fandoms, to laugh and to dance. 

I am thankful for warm socks and comfortable shoes, Legos, wool blankets, long walks, blue skies, green grass, rainy days, Cards Against Humanity, Pitch Perfect, hammocks, the way snow falls silently, fireplaces, fresh cut flowers, tomatoes still warm from the sun, a cozy chair with a view of the ocean, iPhones, the luxury of a new laptop, dresses and skirts with pockets, handcrafted cocktails, the sounds of laughter, a gentle breeze on a lazy afternoon, Gary Larson, naps, fountain pens, and so many, many other things.

What I like to remember.

24 November 2013


This morning I have prepared all the necessary things. I have started a fire. I have brewed some french-pressed coffee. I have turned the heat on (because if I don't my fingers literally turn blue as I type). I have opened the curtains in the library so I can watch the sun filter in through the tree's bare branches. It is a perfect, lovely morning in so many ways.

I am thankful for this time I have to write.

Last night I crossed 50,000 words on this NaNoWriMo project. That's the minimum number of words required to "win." I wish I could say it was as exciting as it was when I hit that number for the first time in 2009, but it's not. 2009 was the first time I learned I could do it. I could string together a novel's length of words telling one story. That was a moment I hope to never forget.

While the thrill of crossing that line might not be as exhilarating as it first was, I feel just as proud. This month has not been an easy one. I gave up most of my personal life to be able to do NaNoWriMo this year and, as always, it was completely worth it. (Have I mentioned my husband is pretty fantastic?)

I'm far from done with this. I've mentioned before that the process I'm experimenting with to write this story means that I'm not writing it in chronological order. I have a lot of post-November work to do. It's as if I've cut out all the pieces to make a quilt, but still need to stitch them together into a beautiful pattern. I'm still learning how to do that and I am loving the challenge.

Today is my last "free" day, a day that is all mine, until the calendar rolls over into December (and then, it's December...). Today I will write the final scene. I've had a pretty solid idea of where the story will end up from the beginning. It will be interesting to see what happens when I actually try to translate the idea into words.

My Evening with Neil Gaiman (left) & Amanda Palmer (right) mug

17 November 2013

Status Update

One week ago I left for a birthday/writing/vacation/adventure with my absolute favorite person in the world. (That would be the fantastic husband who takes excellent care of me during the month of November, along with every other month). It was heavenly. We arrived at Newport on one of the most beautiful days I have ever spent in Newport. 60's, sunshine, windless. We removed a few layers and went for a quick hike to the top of Salal Hill, which overlooks the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. We spent the rest of the afternoon on other coastal adventures, eating good food, walking along the Pacific, taking some deep breaths, and slowing down.

I couldn't have asked for a better time and place. I wrote thousands and thousands and thousands of words. I imagined (in my pre-trip ambitious mind) I would write more...but the weather, it was so very lovely and I could not resist the pull of the outdoors. But my story still progressed at a brisk pace. My characters became alive in new and interesting ways. They said and did things that made me feel proud of them and proud of myself.

In terms of NaNoWriMo, I arrived home way ahead of the game, ten full days ahead of schedule, which worked out well since I would need to spend time catching up on work and life chores. But it was totally and completely worth every minute of it.

I haven't written a word in two full days and now I simply can't put it off any longer. I've missed my characters, I've missed this project.

Devil's Punchbowl State Park

Where I wrote many, many, many words.

A Neil Gaiman reminder to myself.

Discovered on a walk.

08 November 2013

It's Been One Week

The view from here.

One week and 15,299 words later, I have made it through the first bit of NaNoWriMo. There have been good days, better days, and one truly awful one. But no matter how I feel, no matter what I think I'd rather be doing, I have been sitting down and writing.

As I've mentioned before, this project (and the process) is considerably different than any other writing I have done. That is both quite satisfying and quite terrifying. One of the things that's really different is that I'm not writing the story chronologically. That's always been my process in the past. But this time, I have such a richer understanding of the characters, their motivations, and the plot points I'm trying to reach, that I can write the story in a much different way.

While jumping around can get a little tricky, especially when you're nearly 50 pages into a project, this has been a good challenge for me as I think about my Story, the story I'm trying to tell and how I'm telling it.

And all this plotting has in no way taken the joy I got from writing as a pantser. No matter how well I think I know the overall story arc, there is plenty left to discover as I travel from point to point. The Story has to be translated from ideas into actual type-able words. That's where the real joy comes from.

One of the things I love about NaNoWriMo is that my birthday falls exactly a week into it. I get to take the day off for writing (and other fun adventures) and I get to enjoy hearing kind words from friends and from family...and this year, I got some words that were especially meaningful and quite timely...for that I am more grateful than I can say.

In only two days I will retreat to the Oregon coast and wrap myself up in November and create as much of this story as I possibly can, knowing that when I return to reality, there will be a great many other demands on my time and my attention.

I'm very much looking forward to the time away.

30 October 2013

With Two Days To Go

Last weekend I went away to the Oregon coast...one of the best places in the entire world. I ate amazing food, drank wine, slept, read, walked and wandered. I visited my favorite lighthouse, the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.* I wrote. I didn't get as much accomplished as I planned to, but I got done what was needed and balanced the time with conversation, laughter, and a roaring fire. I ignored all social media, turned my phone on "Do Not Disturb"...and it was heavenly.

At once I feel incredibly prepared for this year's NaNoWriMo and incredibly inadequate. This year's project is ambitious, to say the least, and I am constantly questioning whether or not I possess the talent to execute this vision. But the voice in my head keeps telling me that this is truly one of those stories that only I can tell...and therefore I must.

Today I hopped on the NaNoWriMo website to take care of updating my profile and to officially commit to participating in 2013 and they asked for a title and a cover...something I've never done (in advance) before. I had taken a picture while I was at the coast and after I'd texted it to a friend, he replied (knowing a thing or two about this project) "Book jacket art." So I spent 20 minutes this morning on my iPhone with a few apps and made up a cover. I didn't know if I'd be able to come up with a working title on the fly...but then...I did. And I like it. It's definitely a good place to start.

Two more days until the real writing begins...

My working cover art and title for NaNoWriMo 2013

*This lighthouse is an integral part of my 2013 story...something I began researching over 10 years ago.

18 October 2013

Whispers of a Plot

When writing is good, when the story starts to stitch together, there is nothing better.  Last Sunday, I got to have one of those writing sessions that make it all worth it.

I've been trying to take a completely different approach to this year's NaNoWriMo. I want to be prepared. There is much discussion in the writing community about pantsers vs plotters. To date, I have been pretty much a pantser. And I love it. I really do love the thrill of writing to see what happens next, that moment when the story reveals itself in interesting and fascinating new ways.

NaNoWriMo taught me how to sit in the chair. And that was an absolutely priceless lesson.


Over the past year I've been studying ideas of Story and Plot and I've read a book (Story Engineering by Larry Brooks) that is very much against the idea of pantsing. And I can definitely see his point.

You can do it anyway you like, but if you completely pants it, in the end, you end up with a lot more work and A LOT more editing...which is where I'm at with my last two NaNoWriMo projects. Every writer has to find their own process, their own unique way of working. There is no right way...there are easier ways, and more challenging ways. Ultimately, what I think I'll end up with, for myself, is a balance between the two. I will plot a skeleton and then pants the hell out of it.

For this year, I'd already come up with the general idea, the "story question" I want to answer. I started sketching out some of the main characters and exploring some of the main ideas a few months ago. And I've continued my reading about writing.

Recently there have been a lot of blog posts from agents, writers, and other assorted members of the literary community about NaNoWriMo and I've been enjoying their ideas and their insights. Through one of them, I stumbled upon one that referenced a book called The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson. When I checked it out (and purchased it) I also came across a companion book called The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts: Easy Exercises to Get You Writing.

I purchased that one as well and last Sunday I did the first prompt and came up with nearly 1700 words that gave me so many brilliant little insights into what November's story is actually going to be about. That one exercise, that single prompt to have my protagonist make a decision started so many thoughts and ideas that I spent the whole day thinking and plotting.

This year's project will be, by far, my most ambition and challenging project to day...and I don't think I've ever been more ready.

13 October 2013


It's working. I've participated in four activities on my list over the last couple days and this morning I woke up rested (because I've been getting more than 6 hours of sleep) and ready to face a morning of writing and creativity.

I've added added one other activity and I think this one will be really important in the coming month. Fire watching. Nothing will get me to sit down in a chair for two hours to write more than starting a fire in my portable fireplace...

11 October 2013

8 Necessary Activities

The truth is, I just scrapped a really boring post I've spent the last 30 minutes working on. I was bored writing it, so I can't even imagine what it would have been like to read. It was about Wordstock this year and Wordstock last. And lovely time with lovely authors. And lovely weather and, in general, a whole lot of loveliness.

The truth is, right now I don't really feel like I have a lot to say. I feel as though my battery is completely drained. The screen is blank because the computer won't turn on.

Normally after an experience like Wordstock I'm completely energized and restless to get home and get to work. Maybe it was the sunshine that kept me from that feeling, those last 36 hours of warmth in the wind, sunshine settling into my pores, the overwhelming desire to simply breathe it all in. (And I did!)

The way I'm talking makes it sound like there's been no writing progress and when I reflect honestly, that simply isn't true. In my mind I've been simultaneously trying to figure out how to get back into the manuscript that is getting close to being finished and also plotting my 2013 NaNoWriMo project. And I really do think I'm making some progress on both fronts. I'm learning more and more background about these characters that are helping to inform the whys and the whats.

21 more days until November 1st...

No matter what I do, I just can't seem to escape the ever present sound of time passing.

I think it's time to make a list (in no particular order) of all the things I can do to recharge before it's too late.

1) Sleep (more than 6 hours a night)
2) Spend time laughing with the people I love
3) Listen, really listen, to music
4) Take my favorite pen to a quality sheet of paper
5) Crunch some fall leaves with my feet
6) Listen to the sound of the ocean's waves crashing against the sand
7) Reread a favorite book
8) Go see live music

I am now making it my personal mission to accomplish all 8 things over the course of the next 21 days.

I can't say for sure that it will help, but it definitely can't hurt.

29 September 2013

Tick Tock

Today is exactly the sort of day to wrap yourself in a blanket while cradling a cup of coffee. While the city faces record rainfalls, I feel like I'm facing record fatigue.

You think you know what a lot of rain is and then the sky opens up and dumps out bucket after bucket after bucket. I came home to a previously empty outdoor water dish for Zelda that had been transformed into a fountain.  I drove down streets that looked more like rivers. I listened to the wind as it whipped the rain and the leaves stubbornly holding onto their trees, not yet ready to fall.

I woke up to a dark sky and watched as the world became one shade of gray, a sky without contrast or definition.

I woke up tired, not ready for another day, another week, another month to begin.

Sitting in the library I can hear the ticking clock as each second builds another minute in the construction of time.

I want more.

What I've noticed these past few weeks when I've been posting little and writing even less, is that I haven't been taking the time to nourish the creative part of me. I think back to the chaos that was November 2012 and remember that I WROTE A NOVEL. And it wasn't just that I wrote a novel, but that I gave up doing so many other things...and yet I was still happy. I felt alive in a way that I haven't been feeling as of late.

It's time I found that feeling again.

15 September 2013

A Book Recommendation

Last week I found myself with an hour and a half wait, without a book or a NOOK. But, as good fortune would have it, I was half a block away from one of Portland's great independent bookstores, Broadway Books.

I did not go in with the intention to buy. I really just wanted to look around and see the familiar books in an unfamiliar landscape. I may be surrounded by books all day at work, but I don't often have the time to wander and savor. As soon as I opened the door I was greeted by the two women working inside. One of them asked me if I needed any help and I said I was just browsing. I'm not sure what prompted me to do this, but I turned around and asked her what book she'd read recently that she'd really loved. She walked me over to a table and showed me this non-fiction book she'd read and couldn't say enough good things about. Then she showed me a few other books before turning the question back to me. And once I'd answered, she gave me a few specific recommendations based on my answer.

In short, it was a fabulous example of good customer service. I browsed the entire store, contemplating this experience. She had done such a great job and I felt like I really wanted to reward the store with my business. I was reminded of a book a coworker friend had recommended...only I couldn't remember the title or the author.

I was suddenly one of those awful customers. "Well, it's red with white letters. The title is something and something. It recently came out in paperback. Oh, and the author has a new book out and that one's blue."

Yeah, not particularly helpful. But bless her heart, she tried and she tried with a great attitude.

I wandered back to the fiction section, knowing if it were there I would spot it fairly quickly. And sure enough, there it was, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I figured it was time I finally bought and read this book.

I ended up at a coffee shop while I waited and devoured the first hundred pages. I loved the characters, the perspective, the plot.

But I had this sneaking suspicion it was going to break my heart.

There is this little problem that comes from reading books about story, about writing, about plotting. I can barely read a book these days or watch a movie without noticing small details and clues I never would have noticed before, all those things an author does to set the stage, to tell the story, to make it all ring true when you get to the finale.

And when it comes to "ticking clocks," this book executed it expertly.

I've been emotionally affected by other books recently, books that have brought tears to my eyes, but nothing prepared me for my response to this book. I could barely read the last 50 pages through the tears and by the final pages I was literally sobbing.

Now, the thought of having your heart ripped out of your chest and then beaten and bruised until you can barely recognize it may not sound all that appealing. But truthfully, I feel like this book is an important sort of book and handles the ideas of Love in a way not often done in literature.

It will be quite some time before I stop thinking about this book.

02 September 2013

Time is a Piece of Wax

I honestly can't remember the last time I sat in this chair with a cup of coffee and a sunny breeze. There is a part of me that can't believe the calendar reads "September" and there is a part of me that is grateful for its arrival. I love the beginning of every season and while Summer and I have had an epic love affair I will never forget, there is a part of me that is ready to fall head over heels into Fall.

Life has been...busy? Full? Chaotic? Calm? Yes and yes and yes and yes. It has been all those things  and if I'm lucky enough to get my secret heart's desire it will be all that and exponentially more. But what is constant if not change?

I've been finding more and more that time is elastic. It bends, it expands, it shrinks. As the Doctor says, "People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big bowl of wibbly wobbly timey wimey... stuff."

I want to take that bowl and mix up something delicious.

Perhaps one of the greatest lessons that NaNoWriMo taught me was that there is always time for the things you want to do. It is that knowledge that has kept me sane during the last few weeks of long work days and long work weeks. It's why I find myself, feet bathing in the morning sunshine, cozied up in my favorite chair with a cup of coffee, contemplating all the promises time has to offer. 

I don't want to wake up in five, ten, twenty, or thirty years dreaming about the things that might have been. I don't to wake up bitter or with regret. I'd rather live a life filled with fantastic mistakes.

10 August 2013

Running Away From Home and Learning What College Didn't Teach Me

Earlier this week I ran away. With a full tank of gas, some coffee, books, a journal, and no commitments until Tuesday, I ran.

There has been a great deal of stress in my life over the past month, and not always the good kind. I've been coping fairly well, but I really needed some time off work and when it finally came I felt a desperate need to get out of town and the magnetic pull of one of my favorite places in the world was too much to resist.

I wasn't exactly planning on staying, despite the last minute thought to throw my pre-packed toiletry bag in with the rest of my stuff. If I had known I wasn't coming home right away, I definitely would have packed my laptop.

But instead of working with a computer, I worked with my hand, a fountain pen, and a blank page. I had a book on writing I wanted to dig into as well. I don't read very much non-fiction. I never have, outside of assigned classroom reading. They don't tend to whisper invitations to me the same way that novels do. I'm also not a big fan of reading books about writing, though lately I've found them to be extremely important to the work I'm attempting to create and improve.

When I was in college, I took every single writing class I could from Introductory to Creative Writing Classes, to Advanced Creative Non-Fiction, to independent studies on writing. I wrote A LOT and I got an "A" in every single class and nothing but positive feedback.

But the thing is? Other than just practicing writing? I didn't really learn that much about the craft. I was not prepared to write a novel. I didn't learn about Story with a capital "S."

So that's what I've been struggling with. That's what I've been focusing on before I begin the task of officially finishing my manuscript. There are two books that have been really helpful in this process.  Wired for Story by Lisa Cron and Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Notice how they both have the word "story" in the title? It's no coincidence.

The time away has been good. I was able to breathe in deep, full breaths. I was able to walk with sand between my toes and listen to the ocean crest and crash. I thought about my characters, I thought about writing and most surprising to me, I mapped out the basics of a plot for my 2013 NaNoWriMo novel. (It's a very different take on the first novel I ever started, back in 2002, about a woman lighthouse keeper.)

I spent a great deal of time sitting and thinking and a few character truths were revealed to me in a way that helps me finish my story, that one I've been working on for nearly 3 years. I feel like the pieces are coming together in a way that is meaningful and a way that is true.

01 August 2013

Just One Book*

Every once in a while you stumble upon that book that changes everything.

Last fall Gayle Forman released Just One Day. I got an advance reading copy and began reading it immediately. I adored If I Stay and Where She Went and was very much looking forward to seeing what kind of book this new one would be. At first, I'll confess, I found myself increasingly frustrated with the main character, Allyson, but those feelings began to dissipate when I realized the very things I found aggravating were essential in showing Allyson's own expanding self-awareness and development as the story progressed.

Shortly after having finished the book, I helped with Libba Bray's Portland school visit and while we were standing outside the high school in the glorious October sunshine we started talking about books. I mentioned I had recently finished reading Just One Day and when she asked me what I thought about it I gave her the most honest answer I could. I told her what a genius the book was, how frustrated I was with Allyson, and how incredibly rewarding it was to see her character come into her own, and how important the book was. Libba asked me if she could tell Gayle what I said. I have no idea if she ever did.

The companion to that book, Just One Year, is set to come out in October and a few days ago I was given access to an advance copy. In all my 15 years of bookselling, I have honestly never been more excited to read a book early. Needless to say, I devoured the book in little more than a 24 hour period. (It probably would have been less if work hadn't gotten in the way.) This book tells the other half of the story, Willem's half.

Now I'm left with the best kind of book hangover. These characters have wormed their story into my heart. I cried with them, I laughed with them, I loved and I lost with them. And the writing? The story itself? Pure genius. These two novels are so dense I feel like I could spend years peeling back layer after layer after layer.

As a writer, I crave to know how Gayle Forman did it, how she constructed such a masterful plot with such honest and true characters. And the language? Lovely. The writing is so full of wonderful details and thoughtful, necessary insights.

As a reader, I just want to thank her again and again and again and again.

I have honestly never thought about writing fan fiction, it's never been something that's appealed to me, but I'm not sure I can let these characters go. I want (dare I say need?) more time with them.

I've also concluded I must read both novels simultaneously, watching the story unfold from both perspectives over the course of that one year.

It's just been some time since I read a book that really challenged me to think of writing in a different way, in a better way.  It's been some time since I've finished a book and wanted to work on my own with such feelings of desperation, as if it's something I absolutely must do.

Sometimes that book comes along in a way you never expected. It challenges. It expands you. It overwhelms. It satisfies.  And it really does change everything.

*I may be talking about two separately published books, but they are simply two halves of one whole.

28 July 2013



It is a word that calls up so many memories of my grandparents. Growing up I spent nearly every summer of my childhood bouncing back and forth across the Minnesota-North Dakota border from my mom's parents to my dad's parents. And I loved it.

(in fact, I just disappeared to see how much flights are running these days...)

Every summer Grandpa S. would buy me a summer pass to the pool and I would spend pretty much every afternoon at the pool. There were days that would pass where I would wear only pajamas and a swimsuit.

Some days we would go to a lake.

Some days we would go to the farm.

Some days we would go to Fergus or to Fargo and Grandpa V. would buy me a cassette of whatever music I was into at the time.

Some days we would travel to Wisconsin to visit family there. I read the entire Anne of Green Gables series during one such week.

I had a house full of friends who lived next door to Grandpa and Grandma S.

Every day was filled with love. Summer was my safe and comfortable place.

Fall, winter, and spring were different. They were times of divorces and times of change. I went to elementary school at four different school in four different towns and three different states. I was good at making new friends and then leaving those friends behind. The only friends that I kept during those years were my summer friends. I rarely had contact with them for the other nine months of the year, but during the summer months we were thick as thieves from the first day I arrived until the inevitable day I would depart.

Adult summers are a different beast. There is work and a great many more responsibilities. I've lived in this house longer than I've lived in any other place during my entire life...and it's only been eight years. While I am happy with my life, content with the choices I've made, there are still some days when I want to get in an airplane and fly to the smallest of airports where my grandparents will be waiting for me, along with an entire summer of bike rides and swimming pools.

07 July 2013

Writing, Vacation, and First Lines

It's a lazy sort of Sunday morning around here. Zelda's snoozing on the back patio, E's still buried beneath the covers of our bed and I'm settled in the library with an iced coffee (made with our amazing Toddy cold brewing system...YUM!) and the sound of the bookcase clock ticking off the time. The sky is still gray, though I suspect (I have yet to check the forecast) that within a few hours there will be sunshine and blue skies.

Today is a sort of bittersweet day, as the last day of lovely vacations tend to be. And this was a lovely vacation. I haven't felt a calm that runs this deep since, well, that weekend I spent at the beach last October. I feel...relaxed.

This vacation has been filled with grand adventures (LeakyCon...which I still can't stop thinking about, in fact, I'm fairly certain I've convinced E to join me in Orlando next year) and it's been filled with quiet afternoons in the backyard reading books and lounging in the sun. I've wandered to various coffee shops trying to find a new writing space. I've hung out with some of my favorite people.

I've been reading and writing and reading about writing. I spent a great deal of time the other day writing about the manuscript I've been trying to finish. I essentially combined a character bio with an outline and just talked about the story and the people in the story. I wrote about the motivations, the reasons behind the actions, hoping to get a stronger sense for what was working and what wasn't working...and I think it really helped. I think I understand my story in a much clearer way and as I continue working on the manuscript, I think I finally understand the changes that must be made, for the good of the story.

I also spent some time looking back at my Pick-Up Lines post from the end of May. For some mysterious reason I absolutely cannot find the post on my Facebook page where people commented on which first line they wanted to see more of. I'm kind of bummed about that. I figured I was long overdue to take the second challenge and write the first paragraph. I went with the line I remembered multiple people selecting, "Tell me," Jeremiah said, "how it is you ended up here, at my door in the middle of the night, when you are supposed to be on a plane to the other side of the world."

Let's just say I ended up writing a bit more than a paragraph and if you're curious you can find it here.

So all and all, I'd say this was exactly the sort of vacation I needed. Though there is a part of me that wishes I never had to go back to work, there is a part of me that's ready to go back and see the awesome people I get to work with and surround myself with books.

Picked Up (a follow-up to the Pick-Up Lines Post)

At the end of May I wrote a post about first lines and did an exercise based around that. The original post can be found here. This past week I took the next challenge which was to turn a first line (which if memory serves was one that most people were interested in knowing more about) into the first paragraph. I couldn't stop with one paragraph and ended up writing a whole page. I was surprised by what came out. It was not at all what I was expecting.

I'm already thinking about NaNoWriMo 2013 and the story that I'll tell this year. Perhaps it will be this one, perhaps I'll find something else entirely. I do know that I'm going to do more pre-planning this time perhaps even doing a story outline (in some form or another).

But for now, in case you were curious, here's what came out of that first line:

"Tell me," Jeremiah said, "how it is you ended up here, at my door in the middle of the night, when you are supposed to be on a plane to the other side of the world."
All the way from the airport, riding in the back of a taxi that seemed to contain the stench of every passenger who’d come before, I’d been thinking of this moment, the moment when Jeremiah would open the door and I would finally tell him the words that I had been saving for 10 years, words I’d been holding back since we were seventeen and he caught me smoking a cigarette outside, alone, during our senior prom. Words I should have spoken then but didn’t because his date was two steps behind him.
Now there were no excuses left. I would finally tell him the truth, how I’d had a crush on him since we were 14 and fate had given us neighboring lockers on the first day of high school.
“Who is it?” I heard an unfamiliar woman’s sleep-coated voice emerge from darkness of the apartment.
Jeremiah looked at me and then looked back towards the apartment. “It’s just a friend, babe. I’m going to step outside for a minute.”
I could feel the tears rising from the depths. I’d always been good at swallowing them down, but this time I couldn’t make them stop. I turned and walked down the hallway to the door leading to the staircase and opened it, not looking back to see if Jeremiah was still behind me.
I should have known this was a horrible idea. I should have gotten on the plane and left for my new life, leaving old friends and unrequited loves behind, in the past where they belonged. Maybe I’d watched too many romantic films or maybe I’d had one too many mojitos in the airport bar as I waited for my plane to begin boarding. Whatever it was I wished I could go back in time and erase it so I’d never end up here, sitting alone in a stairwell, embarrassed, alone and crying.
My personal pity part was really starting to heat up when I heard the door open and close behind me. I buried my tear-streaked face in my hands so Jeremiah wouldn’t be able to see.
He sat down beside me and I felt the weight and warmth of his arm wrap around me. “Alice,” he said, his voice steady, calm, and sure. “What happened?”
Here I was, faced with that moment of truth, the opportunity to say those very words I’d come here to say.
Instead I said, “My flight was cancelled and I just didn’t know where else to go.”
Another lie.
And whether Jeremiah believed me or not, he accepted those words.

03 July 2013

Life After Leaky

It's been a strange sort of transition from the four days I spent at LeakyCon to the very normalness of every day life. I'm really glad I decided to take an entire week off before going back to work. One, because I would have been completely exhausted, and two, because I think I really needed this time to process the entire experience.

There were times when I was lonely, times when I was surrounded by thousands of literal people and yet, completely alone. There were times when I felt like I didn't belong, like I was too old to be a part of this experience. Those were the hard times.

And then there were the times when I felt like I was surrounded by two thousand friends with four thousand welcoming arms, times when I danced with strangers for hours and hours, times when I laughed, times when I cried, times when I laughed until I cried.

And I was inspired.

I saw so many brilliant, funny, and kind authors, agents, editors. I watched them lie and read stories they wrote when they were teenagers. I listened to their struggles, their triumphs, their stories.

And I was reminded of my own stories.

And I was reminded that it's still important to tell them.

A selection of photos from LeakyCon 2013

26 May 2013

Pick-up Lines

If asked, I would probably say my favorite opening line to a book would be from Charlotte's Web. I mean, "Where's Papa going with that ax?" has got to be in a great many top ten lists. It says so much, with so little.

The last few weeks I've been doing a lot of reading about writing and a lot of thinking about the art of storytelling. I'm still working on the opening of my novel and have yet to settle on exactly the right way to start the book. So I keep playing. I keep exploring. I keep dreaming.

After a morning of adventuring and yard work, I decided to settle into the library for an hour or two of reading/writing/thinking. I pulled The Observation Deck by Naomi Epel off the shelf where I keep my books about writing and decided to draw a card and see where it took me.

study opening lines

Ah, a bit timely and appropriate. I was instructed to pull some favorite books of the shelf and look at their opening lines. I pulled five favorites (from childhood to present day) off the shelf. These are their first lines:

"The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself." (from the prologue of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere)

"The circus arrives without warning." (from Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus)

"Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobblestones, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day." (from Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone)

"Once there were four children named Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy." from (C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

"Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies' eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde's door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting in her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof." (from L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables)

Looking at first lines all on there own is an interesting adventure, especially when they are from a story that is so familiar you to you it feels like one of your very own. (like Anne or Lucy) Some people argue that the opening line should be, in some way or another, tied in to the story's end, that the essence of what the book is about, from beginning to end, should be represented in that first line. Talk about a lot of weight resting on only a few words!

In addition to looking at some of the opening lines to some of my favorites, The Observation Deck also challenged me to "brainstorm a list of twenty-five spontaneous opening lines."

Here are my unedited opening lines:

1) Recently divorced, Penny sat alone in her new apartment, looking at the blank walls, wondering where and when, exactly, she had taken the wrong path.

2) When Esperanza was twelve years old, she had a dream that one day she would own her own gas station.

3) Paul held his breath and listened to the crowd roaring as loud as the Pacific, waiting for him to make his entrance, wondering if everything had been worth it.

4) After sleeping until noon, I finally woke up and went into the kitchen where I found my grandmother working on yet another puzzle.

5) "Because," my mother said, "and that is the only answer you deserve."

6) "Tell me," Jeremiah said, "how it is you ended up here, at my door in the middle of the night, when you are supposed to be on a plane to the other side of the world."

7) I wanted to say yes, and yet, I couldn't believe it when I heard myself say no.

8) There is a certain freedom that comes from having lost everything.

9)  Allison didn't even know she was nervous until she looked down and saw that she'd chewed her nails all the way down to the quick.

10) Susan sat back in her seat, the air of the plane already stale, and waited for that moment when the wheels left the ground.

11) Nichole hadn't opened the yearbook from her senior year of high school since the day she'd brought it home from school.

12) Sometimes the truth is more ambitious than a lie.

13) After being a parent for 4 years, Andrea was convinced the only purpose she played was to answer the question, "Why?"

14) My grandfather always said, "You go up or you go down, those are the only two choices you get in life or in death."

15) Patricia learned the hard way to never say never.

16) Standing on the edge of cliff, one that was both literal and figurative, Amy thought about the time her father took her to the zoo.

17) As soon as Georgia opened the refrigerator, she knew that there was something she had forgotten long ago.

18) After 12 years of piano lessons, Andy decided he would never play again.

19) There have been many times I have wished for a time machine, a way to go back and make the smarter choice, but never a time when I have wished for it more than the night my best friend married the only boy I had ever loved.

20) "Imagine," I said to Andy, the boy who'd been my neighbor and best friend since we started kindergarten, "Imagine if there actually had been a body inside."

21) It wasn't until my phone rang that I knew I was going to be in some serious trouble.

22) Once upon a time there was a girl at a party when she should have been home, snuggled beneath the covers of her childhood bed.

23) The room was dark and lined with bookshelf after bookshelf, each one stacked with books both vertically and horizontally.

24) If it weren't for the fireworks, with their booms and cracks, I would not have known that today was the 4th of July.

25) It was unusual for Vivian to be caught by surprise and so I couldn't help but wonder what had happened to make her appear so out of sorts.

The second part of the exercise involves taking one of the 25 opening lines and writing the paragraphs that follow. I'm curious to know which, if any of these opening lines were intriguing to you, dear reader. Are there any that leave you wanting to know the rest of the story? Give me a number in a comment (on the blog or on Facebook) and we'll see what happens!

19 May 2013

When the Sandman Visits

Last night I dreamed of Neil Gaiman. The truth is, I have a lot of Neil Gaiman dreams. He has held more guest appearances in my dreams than any other person. Occasionally Amanda Palmer is in them, but most of the time it's only Neil.

I met Neil Gaiman (in real life) almost 15 years ago, not long after I started working in my first bookstore. He was touring for Stardust and at the time, I had yet to read Sandman or any other of his brilliant works. To me, then, he was simply a nice looking, nice sounding British gentleman. He was kind and witty. And because I wasn't yet a fan, I wasn't nervous or self-conscious.

After that meeting, he began to appear in my dreams. Sometimes I'll go months and months between these nocturnal encounters and other times I'll have several in a single week. They are, without a doubt, some of my favorite dreams and I often wake up feeling inspired. A year and a half ago I had one in which I was taking a writing class with Neil. In it, we didn't talk about writing, we talked about the importance of saying thank you. Odd, and yet somehow it seemed to make complete sense. I ended up writing a thank you email to a former writing professor who had taught me many important things about writing, about life.

Sometimes Neil and I simply hang out and the conversations we have don't have roots deep enough to hold on to the morning's consciousness. Last night, we were in my store. We were all dressed for a wedding and Neil was wearing this amazing black suit. The down escalator had been transformed into a slide. I grabbed my Neil-Obsessed-Co-Worker, and took a picture of him with Neil using one of the teen endcaps for a back-drop.

While I was at work yesterday I picked up the Chip Kidd designed book of Neil Gaiman's, Make Good Art. It is the physical manifestation of the speech he gave last year to Philadelphia's University of the Arts. When I got home, I sat down and read it. If you're on the internet at all, odds are you saw at least bits and pieces of it passing by. There were quotes almost everywhere I wandered. The speech struck a chord me as well as, it seemed, a million other people. (You can actually watch Neil deliver the speech by visiting here.)

Watch the video. Find the written speech online. Buy the brilliantly designed little book. Whether you are a creative type or not, there is something there for everyone. There were words held within those pages that I needed to find, right now and for always.

As I've talked about before, I've been scraping up my shins on the stumbling blocks of fear. The fear of failure, to be specific. Making good art isn't about creating something you know is going to work, something you know is going to be "good." That's boring, and so often misses the mark. Instead, I think Neil Gaiman is right. We should go and "make interesting, amazing, glorious, fantastic mistakes."

01 May 2013

Too Many Trees in the Forest (Too Many Places to Hide)

Last Sunday, I was supposed to really dig into the revising of the manuscript I've been working on for a little over two years now. And I tried. I did.

But if I'm completely honest with myself, I'm feeling lost. Lost and maybe a bit overwhelmed. I can't see the forest for the trees or the trees for the enormity of the forest. So instead of digging my heals in and getting to the tough work of editing the words that are so close to my heart, I cheated.

I'm not sure how it happened, but my fingers slid and clicked their way to the document on the screen titled simply "NaNoWriMo2012," a document I hadn't once felt tempted to open since completing my 50,000 some words during the last days of November. I can't even say what I expected would happen when I opened the file, but before I even realized what I was doing, I was reading. I was reading words that I had written, for the first time ever.

And they weren't so bad.

Before I knew it, I'd read the first twenty pages, fixing a few typos, adding and deleting the occasional sentence. And I was enjoying the story. Reading about Henry felt a bit like catching up with an old friend. Sometimes I found it hard to believe they were my words and my ideas (and a few times I was embarrassed that they were my words and my ideas).

Since then, I've been picking away at NaNoWriMo2012, reading a chapter here and a chapter there, continuing my procrastination of the work I know I should be doing. I feel less guilty than if I wasn't editing at all, but I still feel guilty. It doesn't help that Henry is a character with a certain vulnerability and charm that just draws me in...which is probably why I wrote a book about him in the first place.

The truth is, I think there is a part of me that doesn't want to ever finish Something Worth Holding On To because when I finish it, I have to send it out into the world to see what happens, for better or for worse. Right now it's in a safe little space. A few people have read versions of it and pieces of it, but I'm the only one who knows where the story stands. I've discovered there is a shield that comes with a "Work In Progress" that protects your pride and right now I'm a little too comfortable there.

14 April 2013

In Celebration of National Poetry Month, Some Bad Poems and Some Not Quite So Bad Poems

I used to write poetry. A lot. I have pages and pages of horrible poetry from high school. I have pages and pages of some better poetry from college. And I have some decent poems from my post-academic career. Once upon a time, I even considered getting an MFA in poetry. Since I've taken to writing novels (a task which once I found impossible to imagine), I don't really write poems anymore. Some day I think I'll go back, but for now, my heart is pulling me in another direction and I know well enough to follow it.

My first piece of published work was in my high school literary magazine and it was the following poem:


Painful separation
Tearing them apart
Each word piercing
Each silence threatening
Their precious love sacrificed
To bring him happiness
New danger never dreamed of
New threats never heard
At least it's not us

Painful separation
Tearing us apart
Each word brings horror
Each silence shaking our bodies
Our precious love destroyed
To bring him joy
New terror never imagined
New life abandoned
With no purpose but to teach me
What I was foolish to never learn.

It's funny to read that poem now, so many years later and wonder, "What the hell was that about, anyway?" Many of the poems I wrote early on were pretty abstract and rather angsty. I was a rather serious high schooler. In fact, my nickname was "Dead Serious."'

I continued writing poetry in college and when I was a sophomore I had two poems published in the college literary arts magazine. The first was a lighter poem for me and on this cold and wet and gray day, it makes me wish for the days I know are yet to come.

Breath of Spring

Just breathing in the air itself is intoxicating today. So let me breathe it in deep,
Let me take breaths so full
I become dizzy with delight.

I am dizzy with something.

Maybe it's the blue sky, that pale blue that
stretches and stretches
beyond the limits of horizon
and into the dimension of we.

You are my daffodil friend.

I say it's you dancing dizzily around me in your daffodil style all
and green
and orange,
dancing your dance of colors,
a stretching rainbow
across this great expanse of sky
and into imaginary lands.

In the spring of my junior year, I was contacted by a student taking a music composition class asking if she could use the other poem that had been published during my sophomore year. It was probably one of the most flattering things that had ever been said about my writing. How could I say no? That April I went to the recital where the composition students had their work performed. What I didn't know until that night, was that a second student had also chosen that same poem. The only difference was that person hadn't asked. It was hard to know whether to be flattered or offended by the lack of permission. Either way, it was still an incredibly surreal moment to hear my words sung by a stranger.

Apocalyptic Visions

Looking up
there was conflict in the sky
and I,
I was in the middle of it all.

Blue and white lay out on the left.
Black and gray covering the right.
Me, standing in between, awaiting the battle cry.
And it came.

In movement,
in sound,
with birds as they flew flew flew from the trees
into the very air that seemed to call for something,
that seemed to echo something,
something is coming soon,
coming soon,
coming soon.

And it came.

My senior year, I also had two poems published in the literary arts magazine. I was the editor so there may have been a slight bias. One of the poems was something I had written in response to the adaptation of my poem the year before. I have the vague memory of walking out of the recital hall that night and needing some time to myself. I went to one of my favorite places to sit outside, alone in the dark, and I let my thoughts wander as I tried to process what the experience meant to me.

disconcerted utterances

disjointed thoughts
connected only by the wind
I just don't understand
why my words
for your song
how did you find my voice
I thought it was gone
abandoned on some mountain
with a pair of wool socks
from that time I had
to leave in such a hurry

I am speechless
where words once were
there are tears
that won't fall
they rest
in my eyes
shadowing my vision
making me question
what happened
in that undefined space
between what was
and what is

it is there that you seem to sing.

To conclude this tour of Jessica's Poetry: From High School to Beyond, I will leave you with one of my more recent poems that I've been working on since one amazing night at the Aladdin Theater after seeing Josh Ritter perform his (then) new song Thin Blue Flame before it was released on an album.

Dear Josh,

I wanted you to know what it felt like
the first time I heard Thin Blue Flame
as the rest of the band seemed to disappear
from the Aladdin's stage into the depths of the darkness.

You stood on the very edge of the stage,
closed your eyes and opened up your voice,
lulling us down a plank into the wide open sea
leaving us to sink or to swim.

Wolves circled in anticipation.

Goosebumps rose from my skin
as tears welled slowly, then rolled
as a restless crowd grew still,
caught in the hypnotic snare, the rhythm consuming.

There are few moments in this life
that transcend all boundaries of time, of space,
those moments which become part of an eternal strand,
threaded, perpetual, true, and definite.

This moment was one of them.

I thought you should know.


The sheet music for my song.

07 April 2013

Reading & Writing

Lately I have been devouring books as if they were necessary, probably because for people like me, they are. In the last week alone I've finished 4 books, started a 5th, and abandoned a 6th. I have no idea how, exactly, I found the time to accomplish this, yet somehow I have. And I've done it at the expense of my own writing time.

There are very few people who give advice on writing that don't talk about how important it is for writers to read. As Stephen King says in his book On Writing, "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."

I guess I was just really hungry to read the words others have written.

Or maybe I was just avoiding the difficult work that is often involved in writing your own.

Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Lately there have been quite a few demands for my time. Some, quite pleasant, others...not so much.

But being alive can be a great deal like joining the circus. Sometimes juggling, sometimes balancing on a tight rope, sometimes letting go and trusting that someone will catch you.

This afternoon, I've secured a few hours to myself to listen to music and get some words of my own down. Fingers crossed there is some magic that happens.

But either way, at least I got my butt in the chair.

One of my favorite trees, located, quite conveniently, in my front yard.

23 March 2013

17 & Haunted

When I was 17, I was still haunted by the death of the first boy I ever slow danced with.

He had reddish brown hair, freckles, the biggest smile, and an even bigger temper. We'd been friends since he'd first arrived in my 6th grade classroom. We played wall ball every day at recess with a fierce kind of friendly competition. We ran through forests, chased by imaginary evils. We rode bikes along the river. We went to Outdoor School and learned about plants and stared up at the stars. We went to Dairy Queen after the spring Sock Hop. We had the exact same alarm clock. We went to our first junior high dance and held each other awkwardly as Phil Collins sang a song about a groovy kind of love. We talked about politics during lunch and I dreamed of the day he would run for president and I could be his first lady.

And then he was gone.

And no one understood how many pieces my 13 year old heart had broken into.

There is such a haunting loneliness that comes from experiencing any great heartache or great joy when you don't have someone to share it with, someone who genuinely gets it. At first I tried to talk to my dad, to friends, but they quickly moved on, not exactly understanding how deep the wound was. So rather than getting the stitches I needed, I got a band-aid instead. It was better than nothing, but it was not nearly enough.

Slowly though, the wound began to heal and the sharp and stinging pain subsided into a dull sort of ache until all that was left was a long scar, the reminder that something, that someone I loved, my very first true love, had been taken away from me.

It was hidden, buried under clothes, concealed from plain view, but I looked at it often, inviting the sadness to linger, refusing to forget.

I was afraid to get close to people and afraid to let people get close to me. I had friends who knew me, but didn't know me. I perfected the skills of dodging questions and ambiguous responses. I mastered the fine art of keeping my distance.

And every May 8th, I remembered everything.

When I was 17, on the anniversary of his death, I wrote Adam a letter in my journal. "Four years have come and gone since your life was taken away. I miss you. Sometimes I wonder what things would have been like if you had never died. Would I still think about you, remember you?"

Within a year of Adam's death I'd moved away. My father had remarried for the third time and even if Adam had still been alive, we wouldn't have gone to the same high school. It was likely we would have drifted apart from distance if for no other reason.

I knew in my head that it was time for me to give up his ghost. Next I had to convince my heart.

It didn't happen right away. It took a few persistent friends and falling in love before I was finally able to say goodbye. And even now, twenty some years later, there isn't a May 8th when I don't look up at the sky and whisper, "I still miss you Adam."

Adam's 6th Grade School Picture

March 21st, 2013 was the release day for Nova Ren Suma's amazing book 17 & Gone. I had the good fortune of reading a review copy last fall and it has haunted me since. This past week, to celebrate the book's birthday, Nova Ren Suma has been posting various YA writers talking about what haunted them when they were 17 and there have been some amazing posts. So far my favorites have been Nina La Cour's and Libba Bray's. Nova has invited others to write about what they were haunted by. This is what I wrote.

17 March 2013

Feeling Inspired

It's Sunday morning and the sun is rising over the clouds to fill up this room with its bright warmth. I lit a fire in my tiny fireplace, poured some french pressed coffee into my favorite mug, wrapped myself in a blanket, and sat down in my favorite chair to see what this day will bring.

I am inspired.

I am feeling invigorated after some time off, much of which was spent exploring familiar places in a new way and new places in a familiar sort of way. I walked along the ocean's edge with friends both real and imaginary.  I slept in a room inspired by a world created by Jules Verne and it was magical. I ate delicious food. I read books. (Eleanor & Park is as amazing as everyone has said it is.) I visited bookstores. I met writers. I wrote a new chapter!!!

Then I returned to work. It was a good, if not exhausting week. There was lots to do both professionally and personally. I saw my littlest (though hardly little) brother who was home for spring break. I got caught up with writerly friends I hadn't seen in far too long and I went to a really incredible book launch for the new YA fantasy/adventure Poison by Bridget Zinn.

Poison is her debut novel. Bridget Zinn died in 2011 from cancer. Laini Taylor shares a bit about Bridget and the book here. It was an amazing event, filled with really nice people, including Bridget's husband and her dad. I couldn't suppress the tears that emerged as Bridget's husband did the introduction and I didn't want to. I kept thinking about the experience through his eyes, wondering what it would be like to go through this book launch without her. Three local YA authors, Sara Ryan, April Henry, and Laini Taylor each read from the book. I can't wait to finish it on my own. (Sidenote: I want Laini Taylor to read all my bedtime stories!)

I've gotten to know Laini Taylor a bit over the last few months from working with her on her event/school visit and from seeing each other at events both in my store and at other stores. I had printed out a photo I took from her event last November where her ridiculously adorable daughter Clementine sat on her lap and made books for people out of Post-It Notes. When last night's event was over I debated whether or not I should give the picture to her and was seriously contemplating just leaving when the voice in my head reminded me that sometimes the best things happen just outside of our comfort zones.

That little voice was right. I went over and we had a great conversation about everything from the Veronica Mars Kickstarter (of which I am VERY excited about) to upcoming events and her planned hotel writing escape. She also told me a secret I am super excited about. Hopefully it will be made public soon! (Spoiler: It's not about her books or movie development.)  It was lovely to talk with her and she even gave me a hug! (The fangirl in me nearly fainted.)

Today I will spend some serious time working on finishing my book. It's time. I think I'm ready (though there is that part of me that is still scared like hell that I'm going to fail). But the truth is, these characters aren't going to let me go until I get their story right. And this past week they shared a few crucial details that I'd been missing. I'm hoping Holden & Jezebel's enthusiasm can see me through.

From the launch event for Bridget Zinn's book launch. Clockwise: Laini Taylor, Sara Ryan, Portland YA signed copy, and April Henry.

05 March 2013

It All Adds Up

If writing saved my life half the times it was up for grabs, music saved my life the other half. There are times I remember it felt like the only thing that could save me as the adults in my young life fought so loud there wasn't a number high enough on my Walkman to drown out the sounds that came before the cops did.

There were nights spent in the dark, buried beneath the covers, listening to the radio or a tape so well worn it was bound to break from all the love.

There were days I came home from school to an empty living room and I would fill it loud with the sounds of whatever was my current favorite.

When I was in college, sometimes I would spend hours at a time in the practice rooms of the music building playing the piano, pounding out whatever pains were poking at my heart.

Music has reminded me time after time that I am not alone in whatever sadness or whatever joy life has thrown at me. It has given me the courage to keep traveling until dawn.

Last week, after one particularly challenging morning at work, I was sitting in my office when I heard a familiar voice singing a song I had never heard. I immediately cranked up the volume of the overhead speaker and confirmed that it was Josh Ritter whose voice had found me. I didn't even know we had gotten his new album The Beast in its Tracks for in-store play, but my music manager knew that it was exactly what I needed to get me through the rest of the day.

The Beast in its Tracks is an album about many things. As Josh says, "It is an album that began in heart-break, but (for me!) it has come to stand for everything that happened after. I'm here, I'm alive, I love what I do."

One thing I've been reminded of time and time again, through books, through songs, through the best people in my life, is that we are not alone. We are all connected through our struggles and our triumphs. I have also been reminded that sometimes it's the seemingly insignificant gestures of kindness that can mean the most.

There's pain in whatever we stumble upon. If I never had met you, you couldn't have gone. But then I couldn't have met you. We couldn't have been. I guess it all adds up to joy in the end.
from Joy To You Baby by Josh Ritter

From an adventure that is a story in and of itself.

22 February 2013

Taking a Deep Breath

Today is one of those rainy days where the rain pelts the roof and comes down sideways. I'm wrapped in a blanket, nestled in my favorite chair in the library, sitting in front of a fire while the scent of fresh Daphne wanders about the room. Zelda is curled up in a tiny ball on the floor in front of me and it's hard not to let go of all the silly, stupid things and focus on the joys that life brings, the simple pleasures my privileged life provides. There is no question that I am fortunate.

I've been pretty quiet around these parts for a variety of reasons. I've had a lot of distractions pulling me in some different (and difficult) directions, along with a few deadlines that needed to be met. There's nothing like a nearly 600 page book to read (and a restricted time to read it in) when there is already so much going on. At least it was a great read! (And one which I am not allowed to talk about for nearly two more months...sorry!)

The good news is, things are finally calming down. My schedule is clearing up, I've got a couple mini-vacations in the works, and some actionable thoughts on finishing this manuscript. It will happen and it will all happen very soon.

But for today, what I need to do is breathe. I know it's impossible to live without breathing, just like I know that it is entirely possible to cease breathing in a necessary way. So today I will draw the breath all the way from the very tips of my toes until it is time to exhale, letting it go, along with all the pain, the anger, and the frustration.

03 February 2013

Results of an Experiment

I can say, without hesitation, that I really enjoyed and appreciated the challenges and results of this past week's Groundhog Day Writing Experiment. I loved the excuse to write every day, the self-imposed assignment worked well for me. I hate to say it, but I love the thrill of goals and deadlines. It's nice to know that even when I'm only accountable to myself, I can still make it happen.

I found it difficult, at first, to get away from what I'd originally written. There is a reason the story begins where it does, but what I really hoped to explore was, "Does it have to?" The question I wanted to address was really, "Could/should it begin somewhere else?" As the week wore on, I began to understand the various ways in which I might play with it. On Day 7, I even experimented with writing a prologue to see how that worked (and I'm pretty certain it doesn't, but at least now I know).

About halfway through the week, my mind stubbled upon an incredible "What If" question that could influence the story in a big way. It wouldn't require a tremendous amount of editing, just a few new scenes and it would work to create a true conflict between the two characters that would definitely need to be resolved. And best yet, it would be true to each character's nature, both in terms of their motivations and their reactions. I'm going to stew upon it for a few more days and then I may read through the manuscript, noting where adjustments would need to be made.

The whole point of this exercise, was to think about Jezebel in a fresh way. To think about her character, her flaws, her strengths, what makes her who she is and what makes her make the choices she does and make her react the way she does. I don't think I'm quite there yet, but I think I'm getting closer.

I've thought a great deal about why Holden is a much easier character for me to write than Jezebel and I'm not yet sure I understand completely, but I think I'm getting there. Holden, I just knew. I knew him inside and out. Jezebel is a bigger mystery to solve. She doesn't reveal herself in the same ways, but I think I'm finally understanding why and so I think I can finally write her in a way that the reader can understand, appreciate, and root for.

Here are all the first (and unedited) sentences from the last week. As you can see, several of them begin in a rather similar place, though they often took off in a different direction from there. Each day taught me something I needed to learn. It was a week well invested.

Original: All night long I wrestled to find sleep.

Day One: Some mornings I wake up from a dream or a memory and there is that lingering moment where I forget where I am and how I got there.

Day Two: I only knew that I had actually fallen asleep when the sound of a text message startled me back awake.

Day Three: When I woke, I could still hear the echos of "Happy Birthday" singing in the quiet spaces of my mind.

Day Four: It was hard to say exactly when I started to wonder about the various ways in which a person could run away.

Day Five: I was already three blocks away from the house when I realized that I should have left a note.

Day Six: I don't know why I thought moving halfway across the country would cause me to wake up feeling like a different human being, as if it is latitudes and longitudes that tell us who we are.

Day Seven: There have been many occasions where I've let my mind wander back to the very first day I met Holden.

2013 Groundhog Day Experiment

27 January 2013

In Celebration of Groundhog Day

Now that I'm healthier and back to a more normal schedule, I've begun the hard work of what is hopefully my last major round of novel editing before I start sending it out into the world. There is one (rather big) thing that I've been struggling with. The beginning. I don't think the current beginning sets the story up in the way it needs to be, nor do I think it does a good job of introducing Jezebel's character.

It's kind of a problem, as you might imagine.

Over the last few weeks I've been, quite casually, tinkering with the first three pages. Switching out one word for another, testing out the subtle twist I've been contemplating in Jezebel's story, wondering what I really need to do to make this start into what I want it to be.

So I've settled upon a little experiment. I've been contemplating it for awhile, but when I looked at my calendar today it became clear that now is the perfect time to begin. Saturday is Groundhog's Day.

In that spirit, every day this week, all seven of them, I will rewrite my first chapter. I won't look at any previous drafts. I'll simply start fresh, word by word, every day from now through Saturday. Next Sunday I'll read through all seven versions and see if there's any worth pursuing.

I really needed something to get me back into the rhythm of daily writing and I've needed some motivation to tackle this difficult part of the rewrite. This idea seems to do both for me and I'm rather excited to see what comes of it.

13 January 2013

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

If you're curious why I've been a bit quiet as of late, it's because since December 23rd, I have been plagued with one type of illness or another. Today is my first day off where I haven't felt miserable. It's disturbing just how exhausting misery can be. My body, my brain, and my spirit haven't felt like doing much lately.

This has included writing.

I've been waiting for the time and space of January to take a look at my novel. I did a pretty extensive edit this past fall and I wanted to let it settle before I went back in to see if the changes are effective. Originally, that was what today was going to be about, but some other plans and necessities became more important.

I've been thinking a great deal about this novel, even though I haven't been actually working on it. The other morning, as I was driving to work, I was thinking about a few of the books I've read over the last week or so (Lisa Schroeder's Falling For You and Nova Ren Suma's 17 & Gone) and the female characters in those novels and the challenges they face and I couldn't help but think about Jezebel and the challenges she faces and the reasons why she makes the choices she makes and why she reacts the way she does to certain events. And I as I was thinking and pondering, I fell down the rabbit hole of What If...

What if...
What if...
What if...

And in my mind, travelling down 205 at *cough* 70mph, I began to rewrite Jezebel's back story yet one more time. And then I began rewriting the first chapter, which I've been needing to do for a very long time. The story just doesn't start in the place it needs to start. I'm not thrilled about all the rewrites this idea would cause, but the this new possibility has been nagging at me for all week and I think it might be the exact right thing to do.

So I'll let the idea simmer over the next few days until my long weekend arrives. Then I think I'll run away for a day with my manuscript and some time alone and we'll see what happens. It's been such an interesting process working on this book. It's probably been both the hardest and the most rewarding thing I've ever done in my life.