Here. Have some reviews.

A few books I’ve read recently …

emotional craftThe Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass | Oh man. This is changing my life, guys. Hands down, it’s the best craft book I’ve ever read on fiction. A week ago, in an email to my editor, I described myself as having “a novelist’s heart but a poet’s education.” (Don’t get me wrong– I adored my education! But I focused on poetry, not on fiction, so in some ways, I am learning as I go.) This book is helping. A ton. (I also recommend The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.)

gap lifeGap Life by John Coy | I was lucky enough to share a stage with John Coy earlier this year, and the man is just so wise and well-spoken and lovely. In the green room, he selflessly doled out advice to this newby from the perspective of a man with something like sixteen published books to his name. Gap Life was an interesting read about Cray, a boy finished with high school but not yet ready for college, who is figuring out how to navigate his own pursuits versus the dreams his father has for him while working at a home for adults with development disabilities and while falling head over heels for a girl unlike any he’s ever met before.

whisperThe Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski | Man. This book. It’s a children’s book with the most incredible illustrations (Zagarenski is a two-time Caldecott winner!) and the … plot … I guess … is also so lovely. A girl borrows a book from her teacher, but the words spill out on the way home, so she has to come up with the stories. This book is a must have for every creative child, itty-bitty through age 100.

incarnadineIncarnadine by Mary Szybist | This collection of poetry as hailed as a best book of the year by NPR, Slate, Oregonian, Kansas City Star, Willamette Week, and Publishers Weekly. It was full of poems whose forms pushed the envelope, all while having the utmost care put into every line. There was a theme of annunciation running throughout the book, and I found it stunning.

literary sextsLiterary Sexts: A Collection of Short & Sexy Love Poems edited by Amanda Oaks and Caitlin Siehl | Don’t be flabbergasted by the title; this was a fun and interesting collection of short love poems written in the form of texts and meant to read like one long texting conversation between lovers. Some were, of course, far better than others. Some were outstanding. Many were average. For the outstanding ones, though, I say this was worth it.

spare georgiaSpare by Georgia Lundeen | I will post about this what I shared on Instagram: “OMGOSH, I have been waiting for this for YEARS.
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I began following Georgia’s blog, knowing nothing about this anonymous poet who had this incredible rawness and total command of language. She had one photo on her site, tinted green, a girl in sunglasses.
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Then one day I ran into her on Facebook. No joke. We had a mutual friend and I definitely recognised that photo. I tentatively messaged her to say hello and found out we were practically neighbors. WHAT!!
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These days, I consider her a friend. Georgia’s poetry is best described as TAKE NO PRISONERS. I love it, ruthless and unassuming.
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So I’m not joking when I say that I’ve been waiting for this book for years. I love poetry that doesn’t apologize for itself, and I cannot wait to dive into Spare! (!!!!!!!!!)” Guys, I loved it. Of course I did.

pipers sonI’ve also been re-reading the Narnia books (this is an ongoing thing, for any of you who are new to the blog and didn’t know) and The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, which is just about as close to perfect as I think a novel can come. I’ve talked about Marchetta pretty extensively on the blog (here, here, and here) and never hesitate to call her my favorite writer. If nothing else on this list catches your eye, then why not read The Chronicles of Narnia, a Marchetta book, or one of my other favorites?

What have you been reading, peeps? Anything incredible??

Operation: Adulting

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I turn 35 in January. I need to get my crap together.

I’m developing a plan.

So far:

1. I created a budget. I used mint.com. It’s free and quite brilliant actually. It takes a little bit to set things up, but once you’ve linked up all your accounts, it’s smooth like butter. I was pretty darn thorough– and I was also pretty reasonable with myself, knowing my spending habits.

2. I subscribed to nearly ALL of my recurring expenses. If you use target.com, you 1) get free shipping, 2) get 5% off, 3) set how often you want your items to ship, and 4) avoid the store. For me, avoiding the store is a three-way win: I hate stores, I don’t give myself the opportunity to impulse buy, and I save time, which is honestly a more precious commodity to me than even the money.

I created a fancy little spreadsheet, figured out all the costs, and for all of 2017, I will spend only $895.36 on contact solution, toothbrushes, toothpaste, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, dry shampoo (for the win!!), toilet paper, feminine products, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, makeup remover, deodorant [all from Target] plus three different vitamins [via The Vitamin Shoppe] plus two just-for-fun subscriptions. FOR A YEAR. (This is good for me– maybe some of you are laughing at me right now! I honestly don’t know what is a “normal” cost because I’m soooo bad with my spending.) Oh, and I get my razors through Dollar Shave Club (Interested? Sign up AT THIS LINK and I get credits!)

By the way, this hasn’t been an all-at-once thing for me. I’ve been moving into the world of online subscriptions for a few years now. It’s incredible.

3. I’m TRYING to take the time to cook … and to think ahead so that I have a plan for WHAT to cook … and get the appropriate groceries for it (which– shocker– I also order online).

4. I’m figuring out how often I need to go to the chiropractor and therapist in order to stay healthy.

5. I’m developing plans for reading, writing, and exercise.

6. For the first time in my adult life, even books are included in my budget.

7. I think I need a mentor.

8. Online dating. (For now just online window shopping.)

9. More to come.

Did you like how this list when from ULTRA-DETAILED to totally vague?

IT’LL COME.

Tomorrow is December 1st, which gives me one month till the new year starts.

My roommate always gives each new year a name– The Year of the Lady, The Year of Saying Yes, The Year of Living Simply.

What should I name 2017 for me? Ideas?

 

 

Life Indeed

Honestly, I’ve been heartbroken since the election, and when I try to blog, anything I say feels a little trivial in comparison to what this country is facing. But I trust in a God who personifies love and grace, truth and justice. That is not lip service. That is not a platitude. I really do trust him, or at least I am trying.

And so, while I will continue to fight for the underdog, today I’m not going to write about the election. I need to hammer out a few posts while letting the outcry for justice stir in my heart before I figure out how to put it onto my blog. I’m not sure if that makes sense to anyone but me. Just know that it is never far from my thoughts, even if I do not write about it for a little while.

Instead, an update on my life (for you sweet readers who care enough to wonder!):

Salt Novel

I turned in my draft about two weeks ago. It feels so good to have it out of my hands for a little while. I know it’s not there yet, but it is improving the way drafts do: slowly, and then all at once.

(Okay, couldn’t resist the TFIOS jab there.)

Of course, it’s not like I can just “turn it off” after spending 10.5 months in that world. I am still thinking of my characters, and I’m especially working on brainstorming titles. Titles are HARD, y’all. Makes me feel for the poets and songwriters who have to title each piece and not just the collection.

What are some of your all-time favorite book, poem, or song titles?

Reading

Right now, I’m about halfway through Illusion by Martina Boone. It’s the third book of the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy. I’ve also started or am starting a few books of poetry: Yes Thorn by Amy Munson, who teaches at my university; Ultra-Cabin by Kimberly Lambright, a friend from undergrad; and The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins, always a delight. I’ve purchased a small truckload of YA novels, but I still need to get myself back into reading mode after being in full-on writing mode.

How about you? What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Winter

I’m never ready for it. Snowed in Minnesota this weekend, and it’s snowing now. My book event for tonight (up north) was cancelled (my choice), and I’m fighting those winter blues, where all I want is to be in bed.

Do you like winter? Tell me why. I need to hear positive thoughts about it.

Anniversary

On this day in 2013, I had my first conversation with my editor at Harper and first announced my book deal on my social media. And then promptly had my first panic/anxiety attack that wasn’t OCD-related. So I think back on this day with mixed feelings. But OH how I have grown in the last three years. So much growth, so much healing. It’s maybe ironic that this morning I reached out to my therapist, not even because I’m in a bad place. I just felt prompted to contact her last night while I was praying. We’re gonna meet up next month and chat. I’m delighted.

Hope you are all well! I’m hoping to post a lot more frequently in the coming weeks. I miss hearing from you. Drop me a comment please. It helps to know you’re still there.

Dear Diary: Thoughts from the Couch

A photo by Amaan Hai. unsplash.com/photos/nqz4WOGDo4AHi folks! I’m typing on my laptop keyboard, something I haven’t done in a while, since I use an ergo keyboard at home and at work. Unfortunately, my home office desk chair is broken, and while I thought I could make due with another chair, it’s murder on my back. So instead I’m sitting on my couch with my laptop, how and where I wrote Truest.

I can’t believe my baby has been in the world for over a year now. It’s also crazy to think that I’ve written two other manuscripts since finishing Truest! My broken chair and my work schedule have put a kink in my writing rhythm as of late, but these things happen. Life goes on.

I’m feeling especially share-y tonight, so maybe I’ll just address a few things below. Skip anything you’re not interested in.

 

Wrist Issues

I’m reading a book called Pain Free at Your PC by Pete Egoscue, and he addresses how hand/wrist pain can’t be blamed only on the hands and wrists. The exercises I’m doing are actually more related to the hips and have made me think I need to ask my chiropractor to measure my legs and see if they are still different lengths like they were in elementary and high school. At first my left leg was just 1/4″ shorter than my right, but they assumed it would correct itself. However, when I was next tested for scoliosis, my left leg was now 1/2″ shorter than my right. To be honest, I’d forgotten about this, since the only time it was ever really noticeable was after a full day of intense walking (like a day at an amusement park, for example). But reading this book has made me wonder if this might be the root of some of my injuries.

Salt Novel

My gosh, I’m so close to finishing this draft, you guys. But I think that is sort of freaking me out and I’m self-sabotaging a little bit, scared to show it to my agent and editor, knowing that it is still very flawed. I need to find the time and drive to just hammer through it and turn it in. The sooner I get feedback on it, the sooner I can correct those issues. I went through a brief time in my life (post-undergrad) where critique didn’t faze me. I realize now that that was because the critique was all from peers at that time, whereas before that it was from professors and after that from publishing industry professionals. There is for sure a power imbalance (perceived or real) that affects that. Also, I’ve realized that I need to take into account the culture differences too. The difference between Minneapolis and New York City is far more than just 1,200 miles.

Sleep

I sleep with no sleep aid now. I’m so, so, so grateful to not have to rely on anything but good ol’ Circadian rhythm to sleep.

Reading

Halfway through Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom right now. Next up will likely be David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite, although Jennifer Nivens’s Holding Up the Universe just came in the mail this weekend! I also have a book by Cheryl Klein that I really want to start, The Magic Words. It’s about writing for children and young adults.

Election

I can’t wait for it to be over. Seriously, what a mess. I consider myself an advocate for the marginalized and will vote with that in mind.

Adulting

I paid to have my home deep-cleaned this weekend. I recognize that is a privileged statement, and I’m grateful to have the means to do so. Honestly, it felt like something that needed to happen in order for me to move forward with so many of my other goals. Next weekend, I have a handy man coming to the house to fix up odds and ends and my desk chair, and then I’ll truly be poised for success.

Northwestern

I honestly feel so grateful to be part of such a beautiful community. Right now I am especially loving the current writing majors and recent writing grads. It’s such an honor to be part of their lives. They are so talented, thoughtful, generous. They care so much about words and story and beauty, and they make me better person.

Your turn: a) What have you read recently? b) What are you looking forward to this week? c) What thing or person has added value to your life lately?

Six Parts of Writing a Book that Aren’t Actually Writing

There is so much more to writing a book than just writing a book. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and thought I’d write up a few thoughts about it. Note that this is my experience; every writer has his or her own methods!

writing3Research. 

When I was younger, I thought, “I’ll never write historical novels; that way, I won’t have to do research.” HA. I think any well-thought-out piece of writing requires so much research, and not always the kind you might imagine. I’ve spent countless hours researching things that my characters are interested in, just so that I can have my characters talk about them with convincing acuity. When those things are above my head (i.e. the quantum mechanics in Yes Novel), I have to still find a way to write just enough to convince the audience I know more. (Then I had to have my physics Ph.D friend read those scenes to make sure I didn’t say anything absolutely wrong.)

Speaking of bringing in friends, I do this all the time. My Facebook friends usually assume that any random question that comes from left field is usually book research. Sometimes I will spend hours just finding the name of a color or how to build a table or how to translate one sentence of Portuguese. I remember taking so long just to find the name for the “blanket” used during X-rays: a lead apron. That sentence wasn’t about X-rays either; it was about how depression presses weighs on a person. I spent all night researching boats for a paragraph in Salt Novel. And if I get the details right, the reader probably won’t notice– it will flow smoothly instead of tripping someone up!

Brainstorming.

For me, this usually looks like conversations, either prayer or otherwise. I get out either my prayer journal or my process journal and start asking questions, thinking, waiting for answers. Sometimes I tell my friends, “I have a problem to solve. I need this square peg to fit into a round hole,” and we go back and forth until we make it work. Sometimes this takes a long time and means headaches and tears. But I don’t do it alone.

Listening.

I’m not sure if that’s entirely the right word. But with the exception of when I’m sleeping (although not always– sometimes I think about my novel while I dream!), I am always on alert for ideas, solutions, objections. My co-worker said, “Can I still rent a vehicle if I’m not 25 yet?” and my first thought wasn’t how to help her but, “Oh crap, I have a 19-year-old renting a car in my manuscript. FIX.” Anything funny or beautiful or interesting– all my experiences, in fact– pass through the novel-sieve: is this something I can use for the story?

Timeline.

I spent the entire evening earlier this week nailing down the timeline of my story. For me, I find it easiest to use an actual calendar and to fill in the days with the names of scenes. Timeline matters especially if there is a “time bomb” in the novel or if there is some process (pregnancy, an academic year, etc.) that has to follow certain general guidelines. It also keeps me from bypassing important holidays. And the weather has to be right for that time of year (see above: research). And if there is a love story, I want to make sure that it’s reasonable. I don’t want my characters falling in love in just three days.

Strategy.

This is something I am learning. With my first novel (Lights All Around, unpublished), I had no strategy. I barely even considered the most basic constructs of a novel: action, climax, resolution, and the like, let alone thought strategically about how the characters were changing from beginning to end. I did that so much more with Truest, and now it’s becoming a built-in part of my writing life. I find myself thinking things like, “If I want M to relax and C to become more assertive, then I should have a scene where C takes control and M follows suit.” That probably seems like a no-brainer, but for this writer, it took about three decades to get there. Now I think, “If I want X to be especially impactful, then I need to set it up by making Y more extreme. How can I do that?” (See above: brainstorming.)

Reading. 

When I am writing, I like to stay deep in the waters of great fiction. I have re-read a handful of books that inspire Salt Novel over and over again. I enjoy the story, but I also examine it. Why did that work? How did the author make me feel that way? Why did I change my mind about that character? If I am trying to create a river, it helps to stand in one. 

There are other things too, like outlining, marketing (eventually), and finding connections between themes (my favorite!). It’s a lot of work, but soooo rewarding! How blessed am I to get to do this with my life?

Off to write now– actually write!

I’m an emotional tornado, but my mascara doesn’t run.

Hi friends! Hope you’ve all been well. Thought I’d offer a little update on my life, for those who are interested!

Salt Novel
I finished my synopsis. It’s a long, detailed, color-coded one.
Plotting is done. Brainstorming is done (for now). Research is (mostly) done.
Now I just need to pull all of this together into one smooth narrative.

 

Work
My best work buddies just left the university, and I’m spontaneously a mess. I have kinda been overly emotional my whole life. When I used to come home from summer camp, I’d cry and mope for a week. I start to tear up at random moments these days. I’m tempted to say that I’m pathetic, but I don’t think it’s pathetic to care about people.

Sleep
Going to the sleep psychologist this week. I’d love to be able to fall asleep at a regular time, sleep all night, and wake up well. Shouldn’t be THAT hard, right? Ha. Last “night” I was up till 6 am (I read a book, wide awake), then finally went to bed once it was light out. #sleepdisorder

Endorsements
So, I’ve sort of just believed that makeup is makeup is makeup and that people are foolish for paying an arm and a leg for fancy mascara when Cover Girl does the trick. But I was wrong. I’ve been using this Buxom mascara (Sephora, $20), and it’s UNREAL. I need to take pictures sometime to show you the difference. I also started using this Urban Decay makeup setting spray (Sephora, $30), and frankly, I’m shocked. I’m used to having my makeup sort of melt off my face throughout the work day. With this stuff, my makeup looks the same on my way home from work as it looked on my way to work– in fact, it looks the same even after dinner and writing and a nap. I’m a believer.

(If I can remember, I’ll take a picture of my makeup before and after the wedding/reception I’m going to tomorrow. I don’t know if anyone else cares about this at all, but my mind is blown. Ha!)

Weddings
Wedding season is most definitely upon us. So happy for Brittane and Ben and for Emily and Joe. ❤

Politics & My Voice
My gosh, does my big mouth ever get me into trouble on social media! I try to always approach social media carefully, never posting anything that I might be later ashamed of. That said, I’m not a particularly ashamed person, not about most things. I think I’m smart and my voice is important. So I’ve been contemplating whether or not I should write a blog post about how I’m going to vote in November and why. I’m not sure. Letting the idea percolate. Crazy how much politics stir people up. Wish everyone would get that stirred up about, say, mental illness stigma.

Reading
I’ve read so few books in the past couple of months. I hate it. I’ve been far too busy for my own good, and as an introvert, I kinda hate it. I really want to settle into new routines this fall. This will be my fourteenth year of recruiting. How did I get so old?

How are you? I’d love to hear!

 

 

 

Reading Slump

I’ve been in a reading slump for a week or two now.

Part of it is because I’ve resurrected my old novel and am pounding the pavement to pull together a working first draft to show my editor. Part of it is because I read a few really heavy books in a row, and I think I needed a little time to digest and recover.

love that literature sometimes requires recovery. Gosh, what power.

I pre-ordered a slew of books I’m especially excited about for this year, though the new Marchetta isn’t available for pre-order yet. Also, I’m literally having dreams about The Raven King. Woof.

I read some pretty outstanding work in 2015, including the 2015 Printz winner, Bone Gap. I maybe needed a little time to step back in appreciation.

This week I’m going to be busting my butt on my Ardor Novel manuscript, and I’m not sure I have the capacity to start reading something new, though I might re-listen to the audio of The Piper’s Son, which has been on my mind lately since it’s what inspired Ardor Novel.

How about you? Reading anything fantastic that I should have on my radar?

2016 Books I’m (More Than) Excited For

I’m sure there will be many, many more as we progress through the year, but from the get-go, these are the ones on my radar:

The Series-Enders:

raven kingThe Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. NEED.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. Six of Crows knocked me off my feet. I can’t wait to find out what happens to this crew of misfits.

Illusion by Martina Boone. Eight Beaufort. That’s all.

Rose and DaggerThe Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh. Many of you know that Ahdieh’s The Wrath & the Dawn was my favorite read of 2015. I’m more than ready for the sequel.

The Series-Starter:

crown's gameThe Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye. This has been pitched as The Night Circus in an alternate Russia. So much yes.

The Standalones:

salt to the seaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. I had the pleasure of hearing Ruta talk about this book when she was in St. Paul this winter. It’s the true story of an accident on the sea that was astronomically worse than Titanic. I can’t wait to see how Sepetys brings it to life.

underwater2Underwater by Marissa Reichardt. I “met” Marissa when she interviewed me about Truest, and now it’s her turn to debut. Listen to this description. Is this not right up my alley? “Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery, and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.”

 

What about you guys? What books are you looking forward to in 2015???

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

wrath and dawnThis book.

This book.

THIS. BOOK.

This is my favorite book I’ve read so far this year. I require you all read it.

What’s it about? Here’s the official description:

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and break the cycle once and for all.

As you may have perceived, it’s a re-telling of “1001 Nights.”

I’m still having a book hangover from this story, and I finished it days ago. The characters are what did it for me. Shazi is bright, sharp as a tack, incredible. I loved her to pieces. Sometimes she acts thoroughly like the 16-year-old she is– and sometimes so very, very much older (she is, after all, a wife, which we don’t see that often in YA). Khalid is … breathtaking. A tortured soul, a young man full of respect for his wife and with the weight of the kingdom on his shoulders. He has skyrocketed to being one of my absolute favorite book boyfriends.

I’ll leave you with this gem.

“What are you doing to me, you plague of a girl?” he whispered.

“If I’m a plague, then you should keep your distance, unless you plan on being destroyed.” The weapons still in her grasp, she shoved against his chest.

“No.” His hands dropped to her waist. “Destroy me.”

Poetry 2015 Review: Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen

black apertureMy gosh. This collection bowled me over.

In the first of three sections, Matt Rasmussen starts with treasures such as “No island is an island, / he said. There is no new land, / just the same body broken open.”

And “The lamp asks, / is it the shadow writing this, / the pen, or their converging? / The paper asks nothing.”

And “Then, as had always happened, / the clay pigeon flew away / and shattered in mid-air, / and I wrote this, / and this.”

Then the second section happened, and I was too engrossed and enamored to take notes anymore. I devoured the rest of the book.

This book is the winner of the Walt Whitman Award and very deserving. There is a central theme to the poems as Rasmussen explores his brother’s suicide, and so the collection is dark, significant, but somehow not heavy.

I loved it. What did you think? madness vase

Are you reading along with my 2015 Poetry Campaign? Next up is The Madness Vase by Andrea Gibson, a poet I’m mostly unfamiliar with. I hope you’ll track down her book and read it in May too!