Thursday, September 29, 2016

Some love for school libraries

I was subbing in the library at one of the alternative high schools in town. 

A girl came in and stood there, surveying the shelves of books. She looked a little bit lost. I got up and asked her, "Can I help you find something?"

"I don't read," she said. "But I need a book. For class. To read for 30 minutes."

"Do you like fantasy or realistic fiction?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said. "I don't read."

I went to the shelves and pulled out a book by Sonya Sones called WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN'T KNOW. It's written in verse, like some of my YA novels, and because I've heard from lots of teens over the years who say, "I usually hate to read, but I like your books..." I thought it might be a good choice. 
I told her what it was about. I showed her how the pages have lots of white space on them. I told her how much I enjoyed the book.

She looked at me and smiled. "Maybe I can even finish most of it in 30 minutes."

I smiled back. "I bet you can. And if you like it, she has another one here as well you should check out."
"Okay. I will. Thanks."

She left with a book but more than that, she left with confidence and encouragement that she could read it. 

All it takes is one book to turn a kid into a reader, and you know where that often happens? At a school library. That's just one of the reasons why I love them so very much.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

One brain, two stories

I've always worked on one novel at a time.


If an idea for a new story wouldn't stop bugging me, I'd let myself write some notes in a notebook to at least get it out onto the page somewhere. But I wouldn't let myself actually start writing it, because when you're in the middle of writing a book, it is not fun. It's work, work, and more work. There's a reason why writers often describe it as "slogging through the middle."

See, it's fun, starting a new story. There is hope for great things and the characters are full of possibilities. There aren't pages and pages of your imperfect words that depress you, and so, the beginning is fun! But the middle, the middle is usually not fun. You have to figure out pacing and what obstacles to put in your character's way and you have to keep thinking of ways to keep the tension going. You have to keep track of all the different threads and make sure you don't drop one or two or seven. It's hard. Many novels are abandoned in the middle, so usually, I make myself finish a book before I allow myself to start working on another one. A new story often makes a great carrot for a writer.

But for the past month, I've been working on two different novels. And you know what? Right now, I really, really like working this way. I work on one for a couple of days and then, when I want my subconscious to think on it for a while or I get bored with it or whatever, I switch over to the other one and work on that one for a while. There is something really great about having different things for my brain to work on. Some days, I work on one in the morning and the other one in the afternoon. It's like in school when we'd do writing in the morning and math in the afternoon - keeps things interesting, you know?

So not only am I trying my hand at some new genres (for me), I'm also trying out a new way of working. Sometimes it's good to shake things up. In fact, sometimes, I'd argue, it's quite necessary!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Suspenseful stories

Lately I find myself drawn to mysteries with suspense. There is something about wondering - what happened and WHO did it? And not just that, but wondering if a character you immediately like could have possibly done such a horrible crime.

Maybe it started with the Serial podcast last year. That could be it. Up until then, if you'd asked me if I was interested in murder mysteries, I would have said no. But it seems to me, as time goes on, it makes sense that we like to try new things in the way of stories. If we've stuck with the same kind of things for a long time, isn't it natural we'll start to maybe get a little bored?

Like, I've had somewhat of a hard time finding YAs that keep me interested lately. But I read this YA novel, WITH MALICE, by Eileen Cook recently and I really enjoyed it. It kept me wondering, turning the pages quickly, trying to piece together the puzzle. A girl's friend is dead, but she can't remember the last six weeks or what happened the night her friend died.

I also just watched the last episode of "The Night of" on HBO, an 8-show series about a young man who wakes up in the kitchen of a girl's apartment and goes upstairs to find she's been stabbed to death, only he doesn't remember anything past a certain point in the evening. All of the evidence points to him and yet, it doesn't add up. He's a nice guy. He didn't do it. Did he?

So interesting that both the book and the show I've enjoyed recently play around with mystery and memory. Of course, for me, it's also about the all important main character - finding ways to make me care and to keep me vested. It's a skill, that's for sure!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Summertime Memories

My grandparents lived on a farm out in the country in the mid-Willamette valley in Oregon. For a couple of years, starting when I was about 13, while my mom went back to school, we lived on the farm in my great grandparents' old house. 
The summers I spent there are some of the strongest memories I have to this day. I don't think I knew how much I loved being on the farm. I loved wandering around. I'd visit the old playhouse that my mother had played in when she was younger. I'd swing on the tire swing. On hot days, the cool barn was the place to go. Upstairs in the barn was a built-in trampoline my grandpa had built for his three daughters. When I wrote the fourth book of the Charmed Life series (Hannah's Bright Star), the barn she has on her farm is just like this one I knew well growing up. 
Here's that old barn, built around 1929, as it looked the last time I saw it five years ago or so.
Some afternoons, my grandma and I would go bike riding on back country roads, collecting pop cans and bottles from the ditch as we went along.
When strawberries were in season, I would ride the bus to the fields and pick berries. I soon learned that picking berries all day made for one very, very long day. At least for a 13-year old. I talked my grandma into picking me up at lunch time some days. Those were the best afternoons, because we'd go back to her house, have lunch, and watch soap operas for a couple of hours. (Thanks to me and my obsession with Luke and Laura, my grandma got hooked on General Hospital and continued to watch it for many, many years to come, usually before her afternoon nap).
I made $75.00 picking berries that summer. My grandpa had promised to match whatever I earned, so I finally had enough money to buy myself the dog I'd always wanted - a purebred cocker spaniel. I named him Lucky.
I miss my grandma and grandpa. I miss wandering around that old farm. I miss my sweet dog, Lucky.
But I still have summertime, along with the lazy days and fun times and sweet fruit it brings. Thank God, I still have summertime.

Friday, August 5, 2016

On social media and not feeling social

There's this strange thing that is happening to me. I don't want to talk online anymore. I don't want to tweet, I don't want to blog, I just... I don't know. I have to force myself most of the time to speak up and say something.

I've been trying to figure out why and maybe it's because I'm having a bit of a difficult time in my career right now and when things aren't going well, it can feel a little bit like - what's the point? Except I think it's even more than that. I'm having to work hard to protect what little confidence I have left as a writer and so even just sitting down to write stories at the moment is tough. It's like I have to save all of my bravery for that and then there isn't any left for the other types of writing.

But here's why I'm blogging today. It is easy to disappear. Like, really really easy. To tell myself I don't matter, that no one would care if I just stopped showing up on the web one day and then, suddenly, I do it. I stop. And before I know it, I've quit writing all together and out of desperation I put in an application to work at Taco Bell. Which, if you work at Taco Bell, thank you for feeding burritos to the world and please don't take that as meaning that I think there's anything wrong with working at Taco Bell. I am just not sure that is what I want for me, personally, at this stage in my life, you know?

I think it's easy to "be social" when your career is going well. When your book hits the NY Times or you win a big award, and everyone wants to congratulate you, there is nothing easier than being on-line and taking that all in. And please know, that is not meant to be a criticism at all. If you hit the NY times, YAY FOR YOU, I'M TOTALLY SERIOUS, because that is some super exciting stuff that may never come around again.

But when everything is a struggle? When all you want to do is sit on the couch and watch Netflix and eat ice cream but you make yourself go to the computer because that is what a writer does for crying out loud? It's difficult to find anything left after that to put out into the world. Especially when you're feeling vulnerable and no replies to whatever you put out there can feel like another kind of rejection.

I also think there has been a shift in social media over the years. Now, more than ever, it seems like people admire the loud, the bold, the indignant, the outrageous, the hilarious. And when you are generally not any of those things, it's hard to feel like your voice has any value. It's like a mouse trying to get noticed in a pit of roaring lions. It's easiest to just hide in a hole and watch the roaring from a distance. That's kind of what I've been doing lately.

There is no lesson learned at the end of this blog post. No revelation that has come to me as a result of writing this. All I know is I felt like perhaps I should explain why posts have become less frequent. If you are feeling like a mouse in a pit of lions lately, please know - I see you. I hear you. You are not alone. We must remember there is a place for us in this world too, even if it doesn't always feel that way. And now I'm signing off to open the manuscript. To do the work I feel called to do, even if it feels much, much harder today than it did ten years ago. What?  You thought it got easier? Ha. Nope. Not even close.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A day at the beach

Cannon Beach, Oregon
"Back outside
we stand
at the edge
of a cliff
and look out
at the endless supply
of blue.

              It takes my breath away.

and me
and the sky
and the sea.

It's like a dream.
The kind of dream
you wish for again and again,
night after night,
because it was so good
the first time."

~from The Day Before
by Lisa Schroeder

Monday, June 27, 2016

On creativity and play

Ponytail Falls, taken by me on a hike

"For most people, creativity is a serious business. They forget the telling phrase 'the play of ideas' and think they need to knuckle down and work more. Often, the reverse is true. They need to play." 
~ Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way