Good grief!

What happened to December? I get sidetracked by work and family visits, and what do I find but an entire month has swept by.

Yet I can’t let 2017 end without one more post on this poor neglected blog. So here it is:

My year in review.

I didn’t join any reading challenges, so no check-in required. I wasn’t counting, but I think I managed 1-2 books per week, mostly new ones. Favorite book: George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo. I sat down to start it one day and didn’t stop until I’d finished it — the same day. Saunders, writing about President Lincoln at the worst point of the US Civil War (the North was losing badly) and of his personal life (his son, Willie, had just died), combines historical quotes from letters, journals, and news articles with the voices of fictional characters. The “Bardo” is a sort of purgatory, where the dead wait until they’re ready to go on to whatever is next. We find Willie there, at risk because he can’t leave his father (just as Lincoln can’t let Willie go — he visits the tomb at night to hold his son’s body). It’s a gorgeous, sad study of death and life and loss and moving on.

And now, to my major achievements:

  1. Traveled through Europe with friends and my daughter, visiting several new countries.
  2. Completed a first draft of the sequel to Kenning Magic.
  3. Taught my final semester of courses.

Now that teaching is off the calendar, I have time to get to long-dreamt-of projects (in between all the writing I’ll be doing): 1. Walk 2-5 miles whenever possible, to see how many Manhattan streets I can visit in a year. 2. Read some hefty books, perhaps even finish Proust (begun a couple of years ago and then set aside). 3. Visit more NYC museums.

So, expect some content here not related to reading or writing.

To all my readers, I send best wishes for a year filled with joy and pleasure and accomplishments.

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Winning isn’t everything

Here I am again, the good side of NaNoWriMo’s finish line. I’m far from the first to cross it, and in just 2 more days, a few hundred thousand other writers across the globe will have joined us. It’s a good feeling, as long as I don’t think about what comes next:


Last night I dreamt about being given an old jigsaw puzzle — a symbol so obvious that I can’t pretend I don’t get it. My draft is all out of order, teems with inconsistencies, even lacks some critical pieces.

Let’s see if I can drag a novel out of it before April.

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Quicksand in the “muddy middle”

A brief check-in:

I’m a bit over 13K words short of my 50K goal, and have only 7 days left! And just when I needed them most, Grant Faulkner’s comforting words came via NaNoWriMo’s Pep Talk series:

View the blank page as an invitation to drop a bucket into the well of your imagination. Don’t write what you know, write what you want to know.

I want to know where my story is going, and the only way to find out is to write it. So, here we go.

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I insist it isn’t writer’s block

My readers should know by now that I’m two weeks (nearly half-way) into NaNoWriMo, working on the sequel to Kenning Magic. If you check the tiny calendar in the right widget bar, you’ll see that I’m making sporadic progress, although I’m behind on word count by a bit more than a day. I should be at about 22K.

But I’m not worried. Yet. I can catch up this weekend. Or after Thanksgiving (which I’m celebrating on Tuesday instead of Thursday due to scheduling conflicts). Or after I’ve graded the latest stack of papers. Or after I’ve finished these two books by Diana Wynne Jones.

I’ll start to worry if I don’t put a few more green boxes into that calendar. Green marks productive days, where I write beyond the daily 1666-word minimum. Yellow marks days on which I’ve done some writing, but not the minimum. Red — well, you can probably guess. I like to think of those non-writing days as thinking days — figuring out plot, motivation, characters’ names. When he was quite young, a friend’s son used to protest, if accused of falling asleep in the car, “I wasn’t asleep, I was thinking!” I feel that way about “not writing” — I’m never not writing, even in those hours when I’m not racking up the word count.

Meanwhile, I’ve finished DWJ’s Hexwood and am nearly done with Fire & Hemlock. In the the first book, Jones plays around with the Arthurian legend, and in the second she riffs on Tam Lin. Each has something to say about how memory messes around with the world we think we live in. Hexwood is the more challenging read, looping back and forth across time, with characters older, then younger, then older again, as if each version of a self exists concurrently. I was half-way through the novel before I had enough pieces of this puzzle to understand what was going on, and I felt so proud of myself to have figured out a critical connection a whole page before it was revealed.

Fire & Hemlock, on the other hand, is much more straight-forward, the mystery lying in why things are happening. Why has Polly lost memories nearly a decade old? What is the secret that the beautiful Laurel is protecting? Who is Thomas Lynn? Whose side is Seb on? Chapter headings (quotes from Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer) provide a mythical touchstone that inevitably guides my expectations. I think I know where this is going — if I’m right, I’ll be pleased, but if I’m wrong, I’ll be even happier, because Jones will have provided, once again, a fantasy tale that surprised me from beginning to end.

For my NaNo project, I’ve written not quite 800 words today. I head off now for school, but I’ll get back to my project tonight. To my fellow NaNo-ers, Keep writing! To myself, the same. To my friends and readers, thanks for your support.

Posted in Am writing, Fantasy, NaNoWriMo | Tagged | 2 Comments

I step, once again, into madness

Old Town Cemetery, Stirling, Scotland

I hope my readers don’t mind a bit of hyperbole, which is what the title of this post is. I do, however, feel a bit insane to take on NaNoWriMo again, like an addiction I can’t shake. Yet it’s an addiction that actually harms no one, so not to worry.

Today is the first day of a month-long commitment to completing a first draft of a novel. This year’s project is the sequel  to Kenning Magic, which itself was my 2010 NaNo project. Easy to see why I’m feeling good about this.

True confessions: I wrote a “first draft” of this sequel as my 2015 NaNo project, but then set it aside. That happens to projects more often than I like to admit, but I seem to need that period of dormancy or suspension to let ideas bubble away while my mind is elsewhere. Then, the project suddenly comes to life: it’s time. This past October, I located the old draft, sorted through pages and scraps of paper in my NOTES file, did a bit of planning, and now NaNo is here and I have a plan.

Of the 50K+ words in the earlier draft, about 10K are worth saving. Typical for first drafts. But already I’ve changed my protagonist’s name, researched some fascinating astronomical instruments to include, and ditched tons of back-story. Now, it’s forward march, with no looking back until December 1st.

All righty, then. Here we go.

Posted in Am writing, Fantasy, NaNoWriMo, YA Lit | 5 Comments

On the road paved with good intentions

Yes, yes, I know that in my last post I promised to blog more diligently. I can’t even say that I have a good excuse. 30 Rock disappeared from Netflix, and the vast window of time that opened up for me was all-too quickly filled with non-writing activities. (Please, don’t ask.)

Books I’ve finished (the short list):

For my YA Lit class: Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again and Listen, Slowly, companion novels about Vietnamese immigrants. N. H. Senzai’s Shooting Kabul, about an Afghan refugee family in San Francisco. Ibi Zoboi’s American Street, about Haitian immigrants in Detroit.

For myself: Breakfast at Tiffany’sThe Borrowers, Mary Norton’s classic fantasy series. Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life, about what it would mean if we could live our lives again and again until we got them right. And what does “right” look like anyway?

For writing news: NaNoWriMo begins in just over a week. I’ve drawn maps and plot lines, profiled characters, brainstormed a few scenes, and pulled out my sky maps — stars and planets are important in this sequel to Kenning Magic. There’ll be dragons and evil wizards, of course, plus some new characters and a chance to travel around Sarony (whose Princess sent Pintz, Wanda and deBoyas to Mitlery). Looks like I have some fun planned for November.


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Autumn begins

The equinox is as good a time as any to turn over a new (orange-colored) leaf and make promises to oneself. For me, these promises require more diligence with my writing and reading, whether for work or for myself.

So far, I’m doing well work-wise, but that’s fairly easy. One of my courses is on multicultural literature for children, reading books from all over the map: two fantasies from India and China, a graphic novel set in Libya and Syria, picture books about the refugee experience, and novels set in Jamaica, on a Native American reservation, and in the Detroit home of Haitian immigrants.

This syllabus came together well before the 2016 US election, and I can’t help wishing that current politics hadn’t made the course’s topic so relevant, but my students (a multicultural group themselves) have jumped right in and are already finding ways to include one or two of the books in their own teaching.

Meanwhile, in the realm of reading-for-pleasure, books are moving quickly from the TBR stack to the D&D stack. Here’s a sampling:

Denton Little’s Deathdate, by Lance Rubin. In Denton’s world, everyone knows what day they’ll die, but not the exact moment or the means. We meet Denton the night before his deathdate, just before he attends his own funeral. This novel begins like Chris Crutcher’s Deadline — funny, quirky, narrated by a smart young man — but quickly shifts into a weirdness gear that’s funny, quirky, and mysterious, with plot twists that sent me spinning. The sequel is out, and I’m eager to read it.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Because it was about time I read it. Not a comfortable book, but clearly an important one. Still.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (part of my all-series-all-of-the-time challenge for 2017). Doug Adam’s trilogy, now maxed out at 6 volumes, still entertains, even after a tenth reading. But this time around Zaphod Beeblebrox bears an uncomfortably close resemblance to #45 — same MO, same reasoning (perhaps I flatter both with this word), same egomania morphing into megalomania. Could I be the only one to have noticed this? But somehow, Adams gives me hope. The universe will survive.

The Conch Bearer, the first installment in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s trilogy, and set in modern-day India (also, one of the books for my multicultural lit course). It’s Lost Horizons meets Harry Potter. Fun, magical, with so many references to Indian food that I want to get out my rice and lentils and fill my kitchen with the aromas of cumin, chili and cilantro. I just finished the series’ second book and am diving into the third. A fun read, for the history (Book 2 involves some time travel) as well as the fantasy.

Chimaera, arch detail

The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman. If you haven’t read this book, get it now and read it. Funny, shiver-inducing (it takes place in Maine during a hard winter), and filled to the brim with books — the hero takes refuge in a bookstore called “Evil Wizard Books” in a town where everyone’s last name is “Smallbone”. You can’t get better than that.

And now to my writing: over the summer I had two nibbles from agents about my latest completed manuscript, but no bites. The nibbles, however, are encouraging; I feel I’m getting closer to finding a home for that project, so submissions continue. It’s time, however, to begin prep for NaNo 2017, and I can’t decide what to do: Dig out an old historical fiction MS that needs reworking to get it out before a 2021 centenary? or get back to the sequel to KM? or work more on that massive project set in the Middle Ages? I’ll keep you posted.

From OIF at ALA

As for this blog, my “new leaf” includes writing more frequent posts. A week from tomorrow, I start the Author Takeover Event on Saguaro Books’ Facebook page, and I hope a few of you find your way there (2 pm NYC time). Learn more about Saguaro’s authors and their books, ask some questions, play a game or two — win prizes!

Next week is also Banned Books Week, so visit your local library or small bookstore, find a banned book to read, and take a selfie of yourself finishing it. Post it on my Facebook page, with #IReadBannedBooks, and I’ll send you an image you can print up to make a one-of-a-kind bookmark. Again, you can’t get better than that.

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