Tuesday, December 04, 2012

I Be Hip Ya'll

Have you gizoogled yourself yet? It looks like google, but it's definitely not. It's kind of like google translate, but instead of turning your prose from English into Spanish, it turns the places you appear on the web from regular boring old people speak into gansta rap.

Surf to Gizoogle and type your name in the box. Then be sure to click the tab on the left, "Gizoogle Dis Shiznit" to get the full effect.

The Gizoogle.net version of my website says:

"Nita writes n' teaches rockin tha writin practice steez of best-pimpin lyricist Nate Dogg Goldberg wit whom her ass has studied since 1996."

And that's "Ahiya" to you, homeboys!

Monday, December 03, 2012

We Are Not Alone

"The reason we race isn't so much to beat each other but to be with each other." - Christopher McDougall, author of  BORN TO RUN

I like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the same reasons I enjoy running in races. It's about being with others. We participate together, side by side. And although in NaNoWriMo we're each competing to get to 50,000 words and secretly hoping to write the magic number quickly or secretly hating the people who get to 50K without much effort at all, we're really only competing against ourselves. And most of us, loners that we are, need a structure to help us find other writers.

It's wonderful to know people who share our common goal. We’re so different and yet in November we come together for a common purpose. The books of my fellow wrimos differ greatly from mine. I typed 52,203 words of memoir about - you guessed it - running. As I wrote about buying my first pair of real running shoes and learning tricks to avoid chafing in awkward places, my friends wrote about exploding coffins, children growing up in cemeteries, historic race wars, time-eating space machines, and dystopian scenarios I can't even begin to wrap my head around. Yet at the numerous write-ins,  we were all together writing away.

A community helps us know we're not alone. When I sit here writing, I am alone, but there's this whole field of people behind me. On the back of my door in my office, I have pictures of photographs of women writers I admire. This includes many very famous writers such as Natalie Goldberg, Anne LaMott, Toni Morrison, Anne Patchett and many others. It also includes less well-known writers such as Tania Casselle, Martha Crone, Sammi Soutar, Deby Dixon, Wendy Drake, and Jamie Figueroa. These are the people who have my back. These are the writers I admire whether they've ever published a book, so much as a single line of anything, or nothing at all. These are my colleagues and my commiserants. We take care of each other.

On December 16th, when I toe the line with a few thousand other folks in Indianapolis for the Santa Hustle Half Marathon, I probably won't know any of the other runners. And it won't matter. I’ll stand out in the cold with like-minded people and be happy. When the starting horn sounds I'll run as hard and fast as I can, but that won't be my primary goal. That race is just an excuse to hang out with a bunch of other crazy runners dressed like Santa. We just want to be together.
Writing and racing have that common thread. We are ultimately alone. I sit here writing with my own fingers and my own mind or I race along with my own heart and my own legs, but I do it alongside others. We're all alone, together.
How do you find community support for whatever activities you enjoy? I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hug Someone

It's Hug a Runner Day. When is Hug a Writer Day? In Canada, it's January 24th although it's not actually recognized by the Canadian government. Of course, my husband hugs a writer every day! Lucky me! Lucky him!

If you know a runner, go hug them today. And if you know a writer, hug them today too!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Exuberant Imperfection

"The world is a lot more fun when you approach it with an exuberant imperfection.”  - Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo founder and author of No Plot? No Problem!

It's day two of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) and I'm 1,704 words into the requisite 50,000 required during the thirty days of November. That number of words puts me a little behind, but the day's not over and several write-ins are scheduled in the upcoming days which are guaranteed to boost my word count.

During NaNoWriMo, fellow wrimos (that's what people who attempt the NaNoWriMo challenge call themselves) gather in a predetermined location to work seperately on their projects all at the same time. Tommorrow's write-in will be held in a conference room in an office building. Sunday's write-in is at a Panera restaurant community room. On Monday I'll host a write-in at Colin's, a locally-owned coffeeshop near my house. Other write-ins are scheduled throughout the month. If you live in central Ohio and are participating in NaNoWriMo, you can find the calendar here.

During five prior Novembers, I have written two memoirs and two novels (I wrote one of these novels twice) with the help of NaNoWriMo. I have not yet published any of these projects. They are in varying stages of doneness. My first NaNo project, the memoir about my father and I playing golf the last summer of his life, is the oldest and most complete book. Another author might have finished it years ago, but I am slow and perfectionistic. That's part of why I adore NaNoWriMo. There is no time during November for the inner critic to take hold - at least, not if you want to win.

I am encouraged by visiting the Published NaNoWriMo Novels page. Scrolling the list, I see one hundred eighteen books created during NaNoWriMo that went on to be published, many by well-known publishing companies. I recognize several titles including Water for Elephants and The Night Circus. NaNoWriMo is a welcome, supportive structure in which to write. For me, it's also a great adventure and a chance to reunite with friends I only see once a year. As a bonus, I get some work done!

How do you plan to get your writing work done this month? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

That Nasty Little Voice

"Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit." - George Sheehan, columnist, cardiologist, running legend

When I woke today, that nasty little voice told me I couldn't run. I hadn't run in three days. Two of those days were required rest after a 22-mile run on Saturday. The third was an additional rest day because I had a very minor medical procedure. The voice pressed the issue, but I knew what to do. I thanked it for the information, pulled on running clothes, leashed the dog, and headed out the door.

Next month is National Novel Writing Month, that time when hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world join in a common goal: to write 50,000 words (primarily of fiction) in thirty days. Most of me is excited. I can't wait to hang out in coffeehouses hammering out words side-by-side with other writers. I also love compulsively updating my wordcount on the NaNoWriMo website. And who doesn't adore telling their friends about the latest insane plot twist the mind conjured in the writing process.

But as the calendar turned to October and the trees began to show hints of scarlet and orange, that little voice began trying to ruin my fun. "It's a waste of time. You never finish those books. You should keep working on that other book. You'll never publish anything if you keep this up." Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Natalie would call this voice "monkey mind" after the Zen reference to that jumpy, skittery state of mind that tries to distract us from our heart's desire. I'll be the first to admit there is some truth in the little nagging voices. But there's a larger truth I want to remember. Life is very, very, very short. If hammering out 50,000 words during the 30 days of November (that's a mere 1667 words per day my friends) floats your boat, then by all means do it!

Still, I'm going to keep Dr. Sheehan's words in mind. While I'm competitive by nature and I'll be pushing my wordcount as hard as I can, I'm going to try something new. I'm going to challenge myself. Not numerically. I'm not going to try to beat my highest wordcount. Instead, I'm going to plan. You heard it right. I'm going to spend some time during October plotting my strategy. It won't be elaborate. Don't mention the word, "outline." But it will be more structure than the list of semi-related topics or random character traits I usually have by November.

So, fellow Wrimos, ready-to-be Wrimos, or never-to-be Wrimos, I'd love to hear from you. I'm sure some of you are plotters who have a master scheme for your book before the first word is written. How does that work for you? We learned some techniques in MFA school, but I want to hear YOUR version. How do you prepare to write a book? And do you have any wisdom for the new Wrimos? What do they most need to know during October to prepare for the November writing challenge ahead? I look forward to reading your advice.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Writing Practice: One Way to Write

"The calm mind allows one to connect with the inner self . . . the very source of our being. That's where the music lives. That's where my music comes from." - Clarence Clemons

Writing practice is one way to write. It is so much more than mere “practice.” Even when I am working on a project, part of me is doing writing practice. I write much of my work in short spurts of timed writing. I am in the pressure cooker. It is a way to keep going for the short run and also for the long haul. It is a way to not think too much about what is next. It is a way to move on.

Writing practice calms the mind. Similar to meditation, it's a way to observe the mind. In writing practice, thoughts download and the mind flashes on the way it first captures something. You make connections using writing practice that you might not make with the rational mind.

In writing practice, you don't question. You don't judge. You don't ask what is next. You pick the topic and go. And so it’s a way to get unstuck. You just go. But you keep the place you want to land in the corner of your mind. You head away from it, but since you have it in the corner of your mind, you will wind up there. It's the same reason they tell you in driver's education not to look at the headlights of oncoming cars. If you do, you’ll wind up driving right into someone else. Your hands will follow your eyes turning the wheel ever so slightly and you'll risk a head on collision.

But in writing practice, you use that reflex to your advantage. Say I want to write about Morgan, our yellow Labrador, but I don't just want to write, "Morgan is a dog. He is yellow, gold and copper." Instead, I'll start writing about the weather, about how dry it is and how the trees are wilting and how it makes me sad. Eventually, I will begin to write about how Morgan is responding to the weather. His coat is dry and he drinks so much more water than in a regular year and how I have to take care not to run with him when it is too hot and that I must carry extra water for him so he doesn't get dehydrated on our runs.

And then I will write about how sad I am that he ages so much more quickly than we humans and how I am afraid for the day he will die because, since I love him so in the present, I will miss him so desperately when he is gone.

And I might notice how easily my mind spins into the future and into fear and how the only solution is meditation or, with writing, writing practice, because it brings us back to the present moment where Morgan is right here, next to my feet, breathing steadily in a dream-filled sleep, his paws vibrating ever so slightly.

That is how it works. You move seamlessly from one thing to another. Or sometimes, not so seamlessly. But you move anyway following the mind’s natural rhythm. It’s the way the mind moves and even if the segues seem awkward in writing practice, when we go back to edit, they make sense.

The mind always takes some time to settle. That's what writing practice lets us do as well. It gives the mind a chance to settle naturally. The mind is like a jar filed with rocks, water and sand. You shake it up and it becomes murky and you can't see the rocks. All you see is brown sludge in the jar. And when you set the jar down on the table, you can't make it settle. You can't pound the jar on the table or move it around to make it settle. It won't settle that way. You have to wait. You have to let gravity do its thing.

Eventually, the water will begin to clear. The sand will sink to the bottom and, in time, the rocks will drop and the sand will drop around them and the water will turn clear again and you will be able to see it all. But it has to have its own process. It has to have its own time. That's what you do in writing practice. You keep your hand moving as things settle. You let the mind settle and the water will rise to the top as the sand and rocks drop away. The things that obstruct your view will fall, sifting to the bottom of the jar and you will be left with the clear water. Your view will be universal.

Those are a few ways I use writing practice. If you use writing practice, I’d love to hear how you use it. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Back to Basics

"Do not be afraid of going slowly, only of standing still." - Chinese proverb

One foot in front of the other. That's what I can do right now. Depression has been my companion for many years. It sat nearby, often in the chair beside me. Recently, it slid over and climbed onto my body like a dark cloak. Not the magic kind. I walk through the world with it hanging from my shoulders. I walk slowly, but I will not stand still.

In the meantime, I've gone back to the basics of pure writing practice with a touch of technology. My friend Wendy and I skype write. Wendy is at the core of my writing. She is one of two women I discovered writing and reading aloud to each other in Stauf's Coffee Roasters in August of 1996 when I returned from my first workshop with Natalie Goldberg. They let me join their little group and she and I have written together at different times since. She and writing practice bring me back to the ground of my being.

At an appointed time one of us initiates the video call. I pick a topic. She sets a timer. We write. The timer goes off with a sound like the barking of a dog. I smile. As she reads, I close all the other windows on my computer so I can listen and watch her face. Her words fill me. I thank her, but do not comment. Then I open the document and read only the words on the page, mistakes and all, without explanations or disclaimers. She says, "Thank you." Then I pick another topic and we do it again. Over and over and over. It is simple and healing and perfect for this slow time in my life.

What does your writing look like when life takes you down a notch or seven? I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Win An iFitness Belt!!!

I know. I know. This is a writing blog, but still. I want to win a contest and so I am posting a link to this contest in which you can win an iFitness race belt!

Then again, writers could use it. The GU slots are perfect for holding highlighters of up to six different colors! And you could use the pouch for paperclips and binder clips and smallish pens. It's like a holster for your accessories!

I already own an iFitness belt (a different model) and I ADORE it! It does not ride up, does not jiggle, does not wobble, and the bottles (not included in the contest) do not leak. It's simply a fabulous race belt.

For details, go here: http://how2runfast.com/post/28088280256/win-an-ifitness-ultimate-race-belt

Okay. I'm done. Go back to writing!!!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

It's Anxiety and There's A Solution!

“Love is the spirit that motivates the artist's journey.” - Eric Maisel

As anyone who reads my blog or receives the newsletter knows, I suffer from various forms of malaise that might be called "writer's block." As soon as I read the title Mastering Creative Anxiety, I knew this book would help. I ordered the book and began using the lessons immediately.

Why this book? First, the title alone properly identified the problem. According to creativity coach, Eric Maisel, I don't actually have a block. What I have is anxiety around creating. I also grow anxious around some non-writing activities, but this was the first time I'd named what went on in my head when I sat down to write as anxiety.

Second, the book is practical. It offers twenty-two specific tools and examples of how to use them. I appreciate that Maisel gets to the solution quickly so I'm not muddling around. I already know I've got a problem. I want to know what to do about it.

Third, Maisel's tone and strategies are both firm and kind. There's no shame in this book and no slacking either. Gently, yet clearly, he explains that success depends on applying the suggestions.

Fourth, and possibly most important, Maisel addresses all the different aspects of the creative life and the appropriate tool for that stage in the process. One day I'm tackling the rough draft. One or two tools (including a technique very similar to writing practice) works for that. Another day I'm in the revision process. A different tool helps there. In the promotion process, still another method is offered. Realistically, the book approaches different aspects of creativity in different ways.

The jury is still out, of course. I am working on, but have not yet finished the current revisions nor once again taken up promotion which I set aside awhile back. I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, do you recognize anxiety in your process? If so, what techniques work for you in the various stages of the writing life? I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The True Secret of Writing

"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master." ~ Ernest Hemingway

Wouldn't it be nice to discover the actual, honest to goodness, true secret of writing? Natalie Goldberg even teaches a workshop by that title. I attended it and while I found it extremely helpful, it wasn't a total fix. I'm not sure there is a secret. See, writing is a moving target. Each time I come up with a plan, it works for a while then stops. Today's solution is tomorrow's waste of time.

Right now, it's working if I focus on quantity, not quality. I gave the book about my father and I (working title MEMORIAL) to a literary consultant. She gave it back covered in questions. Three hundred and nine questions to be precise. If I thought about all 309 questions at once, I would scream. Instead, I'm allowing myself to work one question at a time. If I finish three questions in a session, that's huge. And I don't worry about the quality of what I'm writing. It's all about quantity. For now, this is working. When it stops working or when I finish question 309, I'll come up with another strategy.

What's working for you right now? I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Perfect Mile

I'm a running geek and a writer and I loved THE PERFECT MILE. I listened to it on CD.

It's the story of three athletes, Roger Bannister from England, John Landy from Australia, and Wes Santee from Kansas, USA, each of whom wanted to be the first to break the four-minute mile barrier, a feat many thought beyond the capability of any man. Author Neal Bascomb weaved the three men's backgrounds and race histories into a tale with enough tension to keep me listening despite the fact that I knew many of the outcomes beforehand. Without creating cliffhangers that might annoy readers, he left one story and moved onto another at such a place where it left the reader wondering what happened next. He also answered all the reader's questions generated by the story at the place where the question was raised. This helped create smooth transitions among the stories of the three men.

In addition to the skillful storytelling, I was also impressed with the tremendous amount of research that went into this book. Newspaper headlines from each race (and there were many) as well as quotations from individuals pepper the book with authenticity. This is creative nonfiction at its best.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Screaming on the Page

"[T]he one thing I want for you is to recognize when you are really singing in writing practice and honor that. Trust that. When you were screaming on the page. Maybe that doesn't make a whole book but that is the true seed." - Natalie Goldberg

Sometimes I see what Natalie's talking about in a student in my class. A writer entranced in her work leans forward, pen scribbling, face intent. Strong nouns and active verbs spew from her pen. And when she reads, it's the same thing. The look on her face shows she is surprised at how good it is, how apt the phrasing, how appropriate the descriptions are to the situation. She looks up, amazed at what came from her heart and onto the page.

She's not thinking when she writes from that place. It's beyond thought. It's just fingers and images. There's nothing in between, no separation between what she sees in her mind and how the words flow onto the page.

Sometimes it feels clunky as she writes it. Sometimes it is fluid. She never knows which it will be until she reads. The brain is a great trickster. It wants her to be confused. The brain knows, but is afraid for her. It wants her to stay far from the fire inside. It wants to protect her, but in doing so, it shields her from her own great power.

The brain will try to nullify the words before they can be spoken. It will reprimand even as the hand keeps moving across the page and the words wind out in long sinewy rows looping and lilting without regard to the lines. The heart remembers how. It knows what it's like to be free on the page. It knows how to open a throat and let it howl until the sound reaches the paper.

And so the key, still, decades after Natalie first said it, is the same. Keep your hand moving. Keep your hand moving. Keep your hand moving.

Do you remember what it feels like to scream on the page? Have you ever sung in writing practice? I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast

"Don’t fight the trail. Take what it gives you. . . "
- ultramarathon runner Caballo Blanco aka Micah True (Died April of 2012)
as quoted by Chris McDougall in the book BORN TO RUN

No lie. I wish writing were easier, but I make it harder than it has to be. I fight the trail. Recently, I've been working with a freelance editor. She's pushing me deeper into the work. She wants to know my motivations and intentions and the motivations and intentions of the people I've written about, many of whom are dead. I'm not sure I want to go where she's asking and I'm having trouble moving forward. I'm uncomfortable, tired, and grumpy. I haven't relaxed into the trail. Instead of leaning into the hills and letting go on the downsides, I'm grimacing, squealing and twirling. That's why I'm so uncomfortable.

When I'm ready to stop fighting, I'll just look down and see a path ahead of me. I don't have to like it, but it's the trail I'm on. It's time to relax into reality and continue working. I'm more likely to find the answers when I'm at the page.

Do you ever fight the trail? If so, please share your adventure. You may leave a comment by clicking the little "post a comment" link at the bottom of the page.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Unanswerable Questions

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves." - Rainer Maria Rilke

I don't feel like writing today, but I'm writing anyway because that's what writers do.

Last week a coworker of Ed's who was also a friend died. This week a friend of both of ours died. Good men they were. Middle aged. One 49 and the other 56. Gentle men who had a kind word for everyone and who often made both Ed and I smile. This dying business is not unusual, but I feel a deeper sadness about these deaths. I am altered by them.

I tried to think of something else to write about and it wasn't working. Then I remembered Natalie Goldberg's admonition to "go for the jugular." She used to tell us, when there was something we were trying to avoid, that we must write directly into it. If we did not, she said, the thing we wanted to push away would still be with us silently on the page nudging aside whatever else we tried to work on. And so I heed her command.

I just feel sad. There is the unanswerable question of why these men and not some others are gone. Men with children. Men with families. Men who lived good lives. Why them? And it raises more selfish questions about the closer loved ones I have lost. Why my niece? Why the young? Why anyone, really? And there is no answer. And so I will also take Rilke's suggestion and just try to love the question.

On my eight-mile run today I thought about these men and the many others who have died before them. And I felt the gratitude I have for my husband, our dog, our home, and the other family members and friends I am so honored to have in my life. And I summoned gratitude for the time I got to spend with the men who died so recently. And I felt the wind on my face and my legs moving beneath me and smelled the hint of spring in the air. I felt sadness mixed with joy and the strange blend of everything that makes a human life.

When I got home, I wrote it all down and I'm giving it to you because I don't know what else to say. This is what is real right now. This is what is here in front of me. And now it is yours. I offer it to you to do with as you wish, but I hope you will take a moment to write about what you love and what you have lost and about the unanswerable questions.

And if you feel moved to comment below and share some of these things from your life, I would love to hear about them. Just click the little "post a comment" link below.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Happiness Project

In The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, Gretchen Rubin embarked on a year-long self-help project to make herself happier. She spends a little too much time explaining why this project isn't self-indulgent and while I buy her argument that happy people make other people happy, it was just such an over-the-top project that I never really got behind her or felt like I was cheering her on. In fact, when the book was finished, I told my husband, "Whew! Thank goodness I'm done with all that happiness!"

It wasn't actually the happiness or the idea of being happy that turned me off so much as her driven, perfectionistic approach to finding happiness, but more about that later. Plus, it would have been better if I hadn't tried to read the entire book over just a few days. It is probably better savored, chapter by chapter, but in my own driven way I'm trying to read 50 books this year and so I barrelled through.

Even though I wasn't always happy while reading the book, it was well-written and the evidence she cited in support of the methods she used to increase her happiness interested me. She had done her homework and, if she is to be believed, she was in fact happier by the end of the year. Plus, she felt like the people around her were happier as a bonus.

I really appreciated the first of her "Twelve Commandments:" Be Gretchen. How many times have any of us done something because it's what we thought someone else wanted only for it to turn out disastrous when, if we had been honest about we wanted instead, the result would have been better? Of all the information in her book, this lesson was the strongest.

A second strong message (another of her "Twelve Commandments"), "Act the way I want to feel," is one I've been attempting to apply for many years using the slogan "act as if," so seeing evidence to support the effectiveness of this technique brought home just how important it is.

While these two adages might seem to conflict (How exactly can she be Gretchen while acting the way she wants to feel?) in fact they worked well together in her life and in my own. For example, there are many days when I don't want to run, but I act like I am happy to run and when I'm done running, 99% of the time I am much happier.

As I was reading, I repeatedly wished the author studied the Enneagram. I could see the driven, perfectionist "1" personality type so strongly in the way she set up a very structured challenge and in the character traits that made parts of it difficult for her. All these attempts to change herself simply made me tired. I also saw my own "9" personality type whenever I wanted to balance what she was saying with some opposite approach, find a middle-of-the-road solution to a problem she faced, or just lie down because I found her insistent demands on herself exhausting. Each of us sees the world through our own personality lens and seeing the world through her "1" eyes made me both laugh and cringe.

Overall, I'm glad I read it, but I'm not prepared to begin such a structured happiness project anytime soon. I think I've already been doing my own mish-mash version of it most of my adult life.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Geographic Cures

"Shut up about ideal conditions. I am tired of hearing myself whine about needing a writing shed—and, frankly, I'm tired of hearing you whine about it too." - Patti Digh in a blog article on Sheila Bender's website

In 1996, I attended my first writing workshop with Natalie Goldberg. By June of 1997, I had convinced my adventurous husband that we should put our house on the market and move to Taos, New Mexico so I could study with Natalie year-round. Now, mind you, Natalie didn't have any kind of plan for people to study with her year-round, but I thought, if I just got out of Ohio, I could write. I mean, the sun! The moutains! The fresh, high-altitude air! What's not to love about a tiny art town in the mountains of New Mexico? Well, one day I intend to write a book answering that question, but suffice it to say, when we moved, I brought my chronic depression and poor writing habits along.

Fast forward three years. The house in Taos was sold and we were back in central Ohio. Hubby would have preferred California or Hawaii, but I was convinced only Ohio would do. And guess what? Writing wasn't any easier back in Ohio.

Don't get me wrong. I benefit from a good change of scenery every once in awhile, especially if said change of scenery lacks internet connection. But I don't kid myself that a geographic cure will fix the problem. Writers need to be able to write when it's time to write no matter where they find themselves. For several years the best writing spot was whatever doctor's office waiting room I found myself in as I accompanied my mother on her visits to a variety of physicians. I'd take earplugs or headphones and my laptop. I'd tune out the other patients and caregivers and write. I didn't have a choice. I was getting my M.F.A. and the deadlines weren't flexible!

The moral of the story was put eloquently in the blog article quoted above. Wherever you go, there you are. If you can't write in your three-bedroom ranch in central Ohio, chances are you won't be able to write in the mountains of New Mexico.

What about you? Have you ever attempted a geographic cure? Have you ever been lured into the notion that "ideal conditions" could solve your woes? As always, I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

How To Write a Book

I couldn't have said it better so I'm just going to link to a "mini-rant" posted by Patti Digh on Sheila Bender's website.

My personal favorite, "Sit the hell down and write." Amen, sista!

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Night Circus

In THE NIGHT CIRCUS which is set in the late 1800's to the early 1900's, two children who will grow up to be magicians are bound to each other in a challenge placed upon them by a pair of elderly gentlemen. The two contestants do not meet or even know their opponent's identity until they are adults, but their entire childhoods are geared toward the inevitable meeting. The challenge plays out at a mysterious black and white circus that is only open at night, hence the title. The book is filled with colorful characters and, well, magic! And the circus, whoa. I cannot begin to do it justice. The author's imagination and attention to detail left me breathless at times.

I waited to read the reviews until I finished the book because I had my suspicious about how they would read. I was right. Readers are divided into two camps: those who loved the book's world and those who hated the book's plot. I'm in the first category. I've often heard writers cautioned aginst falling too in love with the world they create, especially in science fiction and fantsy. I must admit that Ms. Morgenstern is very much in love with the world of this book, but I don't fault her. I'm in love with it too.

This was not a book I would have normally picked up. A librarian friend suggested this book at a NaNoWriMo Write-in. The author wrote it during National Novel Writing Month and it is her first published novel. While the plot left a bit to be desired and I can see where the critics find it lacking in resolution and conflict, I loved it and did not need to know any more than was told. Besides, I was smitten by the world she'd fashioned! Also, it's a love story, really, and I'm a sucker for a love story. Read it and draw your own conclusions!!!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

An Accidental Athlete

"I have released myself from a life of sedentary confinement," John Bingham explains in his easy-to-read, short-chaptered, motivational/inspirational memoir, AN ACCIDENTAL ATHLETE.

Bingham has something of a cult following among slow runners like myself. A self-proclaimed, "Penguin," a term he coined in a previous book to capture what he actually looked like when he saw himself in a store window while he was running down a city street, Bingham previously published a column in Runner's World and now is a regular contributor to Competitor. He didn't take up running until he was 43, but when he did, he fell completely in love. In this book he explains how his "adult-onset athleticism," allowed him to make up for being a poor athlete as a child and claim his place in the running world.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read, I was sad to see that he recycled some of the stories he'd told in his previous books. The incidents make excellent points, but I wanted something new. He did deliver that in other chapters, especially regarding the undeniable fact that there will come a day when you realize your best running days are behind you. And, if you really love running, you will continue to run anyway. I needed to hear that!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Summer at Tiffany

SUMMER AT TIFFANY is a sweet, easy read about the self-proclaimed "best summer" of Marjorie Hart's life. If you adore clothes, jewels and movie stars, you'll love this book. These details were mostly lost on me, but I appreciated being transported to 1945 Manhattan and the Tiffany store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street. The author's descriptions of the city and the characters that inhabited it at that time held my attention even if the story line didn't. While I enjoyed the way the author took me back to being a young woman trying to figure out her life, with World War II as the backdrop, the decisions Marjorie faced seemed less important than they might have during some other period in history. Maybe my own life has been marred by too many dark events, but I kept waiting for something bad to happen.

Marjorie, writing this memoir when she was in her 70s, captured the voice of her college self. I could feel the bubbly excitement of the two University of Iowa sorority sisters as they began their adventure and could almost taste the chocolate milk and toast on which they survived. And I identified with Marjorie's indecisiveness. Thank goodness for her friend and roommate, Marty. Marjorie wouldn't have lasted a minute without her. Once on her feet, however, Marjorie did fine, despite her knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, a skill I also possess.

The book's structure contribues to its readability. Straightforward chapters with few flashbacks and an occasional letter home made the story roll effortlessly from scene to scene. Short spurts of dialogue also move the reader along. The book opens with the girls gawking at buildings on Fifth Avenue as they ride a city bus headed for Lord & Taylor where they hope to find jobs. The sense of adventure is there from the first few paragraphs. After a few false starts and with some good connections, they land work at Tiffany & Company. After a few dates, they find midshipmen who take them drinking and dancing on a regular basis. This is their life as war rages and atomic bombs are being dropped in the Pacific. In short chapters Marjorie captures the glamour and excitement of she and Marty being Iowa girls in the big city. Several unpleasant events do happen to them and their loved ones and Marjorie is faced with an opportunity that presents her with a difficult choice, but these barley seem to dampen the girls' desire for distracting news of the latest fashions and the stars that wore them. I can't fault them. If I'd lived through these difficult times, I too might have needed these escapes.

Overall, I enjoyed the read even if I was disappointed by its lack of depth. Marjorie Hart had a beautiful summer and I'm glad she shared it with us all.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Good Behavior

For my next book in the FiftyFifty.Me challenge, I read GOOD BEHAVIOR, a memoir, by Nathan L. Henry, the story of his year in jail for armed robbery. This was an adult jail but Nate was only sixteen. He was no stranger to trouble and in this memoir, he alternates chapters among his year in jail, the year leading up to his crime, and scenes from earlier in his childhood that somewhat explain how a boy from a one stop-light town in rural Indiana finds himself in this predicament. It is gritty, graphic, and often disturbing. I found parts of it nearly impossible to read, but was drawn through it by the hope that he would find a way out. I won't spoil it, but let's just say that the jail librarian is instrumental.

What I took from this book, more than the story itself, was the way in which it was told. He maintained a primarily chronological structure in the alternating chapters so although the book jumps back and forth in time, the reader always knows where she is because he tells the different stories in a "this happened then this happened" order. Within this framework, there were a few flashbacks, but the story was carried forward by the passage of time. We knew he'd either get out of jail or be sent to prison. We knew he'd eventually be arrested and go to jail. We knew he grew to at least the age of sixteen. All of this pulls the reader along. We are also pulled along by the question of "what exactly happened?" since he teases us by referring to the day he set the school on fire and the night the police chased down he and his friend Phillip before he actually tells the events.

This book is not for the faint of heart, but it's definitely worth the read.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Leisure Seeker

In The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian, an elderly couple, Ella with cancer and her husband John with Alzheimer's, set off from Detroit in their RV, a 1978 Leisure Seeker, headed down Route 66 to the Pacific Ocean and Disneyland against the wishes of their worried adult children. It's a perilous journey with many mini-adventures along the way, but for a couple deeply in love despite all life can throw at them, what they believe to be their last trip is truly the trip of a lifetime.

The book is structured as a simple roadtrip. Each chapter bears the name of a state through which they travel. Told from Ella's point of view, the story includes few flashbacks, and except for those and the slides the couple views most nights when they stop at an RV park, the story is told in the present and has the immediacy and familiarity of one told by a friend as you sit in an armchair listening.

I fell in love with Ella and John quickly and despite having an inkling of how it all might end, I had trouble putting the book down. A friend who knows Mr. Zadoorian told me that the book was gleaned from Zadoorian's experiences with his aging parents and was written as a way to deal with those losses. The book is fiction, but if his parents were anything like Ella and John, I sure wish I could have met them.

This was book number one of the fifty books I plan to read this year as part of the fiftyfifty.me challenge in which I and a slew of other folks attempt to read fifty books and watch fifty movies during 2012. join us, will you?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Resolution #2

Toward the end of last year I looked on my dresser at the numerous pairs of earrings, many never worn. Were they actually beckoning? It seemed as much. And so, my second challenge for 2012 is to wear a pair of earrings every day. "Just what does this have to do with writing?" you might ask. Well, let's just say that my attire is not always presentable. I have been known to drive through McDonald's in my pajamas and I sometimes appear quite rumpled when I sit down to write at a coffeehouse. And sometimes, people recognize me.

Back in the day when writers were more anonymous, when they didn't need Twitter accounts or blogs for their books to sell, it didn't matter what a writer looked like on a day to day basis. On the occasion of a reading, the writer who had spent every day writing in his pajamas, could head to Lazarus (it was a now defunct department store) to pick a few new threads off the sale rack, stop by the barber shop for a trim, and no one was the wiser.

But today, it's not uncommon to be waved at in the drive-through line. Despite being the 15th largest metropolitan area in the United States, Columbus is still a small town. And so, I decided to spruce myself up a bit - at least my earlobes. If you see me in public without earrings, please do not hesitate to remind me of the challenge. And if you see me in my pajamas in the drive-through, please just move along. There's nothing to see here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Resolution #1

"Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual." - Mark Twain

I don't typically make resolutions, but I do accept challenges. This year I have accepted the challenge to read 50 books and watch 50 movies. You too can join at http://www.fiftyfifty.me/ It will be a stretch. According to goodreads.com, I read 27 books last year. According to my increasingly shoddy memory, I watched about 12 movies. Time to crank up the volume.

The folks at fiftyfifty.me encourage us to create majors and minors by choosing lists of books in different categories. I chose two groups: books for fun and books to study for writing.

In the "books for fun" category, I began New Year's Day by listening to part of The Night Circus on CD. It's steampunk full of magical realism and not my usual fare, but it was written during National Novel Writing Month a few years ago and came highly recommended by some of my best writer friends. So far I'm enjoying it. With a second-person prologue, it can't be all bad!

As the first book in the "books to study for writing" category, I chose The Leisure Seeker: A Novel which was recommended by a friend who's a former editor. Zadoorian wrote the novel as a way to harness the material provided by watching his parents age. My friend, now a literary consultant, suggested that the book might give me some insight on how to distance myself when writing about similar experiences with my parents. Only 59 pages in, I can see how Zadoorian mined what he knew to shape the characters.

What about you? Any writing-related resolutions on your agenda for 2012? As always, I'd love to hear about them.