Category Archives: Writing

Top 5 Influential Childhood Reads

Every writer was a reader first. Have I said that before? Probably.

But beyond the logistics of that necessarily needing to be the case, I imagine there are for all of us books we read in our youth that made us love stories, books that through the act of reading unlocked the desire to storytell within us. I’ve often wondered, especially after a rigorous six years of studying literature, what makes some writers pursue genre fiction and others more realistic avenues. I know I have, at least, read and loved books of all kinds, both as a young person and as an adult. But even the more literary short stories I wrote in graduate workshop always had a dreamy element, odd angles and awkward edges that made it harder to get by, to be taken seriously, to make the necessary social and academic connections with my more literal-minded peers.

In thinking about the books that moved me as a child, I wonder, what was it about these that made me the writer that I am, stubbornly, today?

What was it about Meg and Charles Wallace and their world(s) in A Wrinkle in Time that so appealed to me? A Wrinkle in Time is probably the first example of real science fiction that I read as a child. From the lasting image of Mrs. Who explaining traveling by tesseract to the mistaken jaunt to the world whose gravity nearly crushed the group to the haunting sameness of the world where her father was imprisoned, there was realized for me so much potential for strangeness and horror, but with a real heart beating between the turning of pages. I wanted more.

I recently tried to re-read Anne of Green Gables with the intent of getting to my later favorite in the series, Anne of the Island, and I was shocked to learn how little actually happens on the page. I remember Anne as adventurous and bold, dreaming with her and feeling as near to her scrapes as she was. But really, the reader is so much more like Marilla, merely hearing about these wild things that Anne has undertaken off the page. She comes home from a day at school or an afternoon in the fairy grove with Diana and tells Marilla, and be default, the reader, all about it. There’s very little actual doing to be read, and I wonder now if Anne isn’t in part to blame for how close I like to be to my narrators. I want to write each touch and taste of the world and invite the reader to taste and touch, too. Anne remains vibrant as ever despite the narrative choices, which is surely a testament to what a strong and likeable character she is.

The Island of the Blue Dolphins is the first of two orphan stories on this list, and really only one of many I devoured as a child. The quiet strength and resourcefulness of the main character was always a wonder to me as a child, and I loved all of the details about how she navigated her solitude, what she did, ate, made, and built, and how. I haven’t re-read this book as an adult, but I don’t remember her feeling sad or sorry for herself, but rather reckoning with what has happened to her through action – moving forward, rather than dwelling on the past. She was competent and serene and strong, and I wanted to think that I could be just like her, if I had to be.

The main character from The Secret Garden was, conversely, not serene. She had edges and angers that I liked, and a willfulness to take whatever she could from the hand she’d been dealt that greatly appealed to me. Also, there was just something so romantic about an English country house and the idea that a young woman alone could discover and conquer its secrets. I liked that she and the boys challenged and changed each other, and that they could each, in their own way, find happiness.

I also feel like it’s a hallmark of readers of my generation to still look for doors in hedges. Even my husband does it.

My love for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Magician’s Nephew are nearly equal, and I think it’s because they both stretch beyond the boundaries of Narnia as know them in the rest of the books of the series. The memorable fountains as doorways to other worlds in The Magician’s Nephew is such a treat that it’s one of my favorite things lifted into Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and reaching the very edge of the horizon in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and being irrevocably changed by the experience was powerful and wonderful. We weren’t church-going when I was a child and the nearest I came to salvation was someone passing me a coloring sheet outside of a grocery store with a little prayer on it that I could say and “be saved,” so the religious overtures in Lewis’ works were always lost on me. What Lucy and Edmund and Eustace, and Digory and Polly and the others, experience was purely magical and human, and I reveled in it.

What about you? What were the childhood classics that shaped you?

Whose Icon Would You Be?

You might be an icon if you feel feelings. Or if you don’t. But there’s really only one way to find out.

Take the quiz!

I will not tell you how many hours I spent putting this very simple Buzzfeed quiz together, which uses total guesswork science to determine whose icon you would be, if you were an icon. It was worth every minute to not have to cheat to get exactly who I wanted on my first try.

Though I suppose knowing how to answer in advance is the signature definition of cheating.

But, I won’t spoil you provided you promise to tell me who you got.

 

What the Internet is For

When I read Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet I was so delighted by her descriptions of how she approached marketing and promotion for The Guild, how everything was genuine, personal, and obsessively orchestrated by Day herself. As I stalked around my city on my lunch breaks hanging flyers in Cincinnati’s many coffee spots and libraries about my book’s launch and signing earlier this month, or when I still stubbornly respond to every RT and send thank you emails, I like how close to the work that I feel. I enjoy being a part of a community of writers and readers and dreamers, and growing that community all the time.

There are a lot of demands around how to market oneself online and create a personal brand, and I feel grateful to have gotten first involved in an internet before this was a thing. I started blogging in 2001 on Diaryland. I was 18 and it was then, at least for me, about cultivating a voice and entering a conversation. I made friends then that I treasure still now, as I did in subsequent years on Livejournal. At some point, blogging became less about play and more about product, and I’ve always been a little sorry for the change. But social media came along to fill the void at just the right time, and for a few years Myspace, and later Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr, allowed for the same informal socializing online. We shared things. We got giddy about things, and sad, and silly.

The medium changes, but my approach doesn’t.

Thinking about Day, again. She has always felt so authentic to me, and so kind, and that’s exactly what I’ve endeavored to be on the internet. I want people to feel as heard as they would if we were sitting across from each other over coffee. I didn’t grow up with the internet, but it’s been part of my adult life for my entire adult life, which is probably why I balk at folks who are just a few years older than I am, in some cases, acting like the conversations and speculations we’re having online are any less real than the ones we’d have in person. If I’m engaging with you, I’m engaging with you. The same goes, I imagine, for so much of my peer group and folks much younger than me, too. I’m just barely a Millennial – I remember when I was growing up, we were called Generation Y, and I’ve always felt there’s a subtle difference for those of us born in the early 80s, old enough to remember the world before the World Wide Web, young enough to appreciate both worlds as they are.

As a writer and a human with stories to share, I am always going to want to talk to you, learn about you, learn from you. I am going to pursue honesty and whimsy and friendship as ardently in a virtual space as I would in a real one – because both are real.

Don’t you think?

Guilty as Charged

My second book has been out for a week, officially. Pretty weird, right? Here’s how I’ve celebrated.

On Tuesday, I shared a kids’ chocolate shake with my littles. Because there’s no not sharing something sweet when your children are awake.

On Wednesday, my husband went out of town for work, so I ferried and fed and bathed my children sans backup. We watched Reading Rainbow and ate leftovers and I stole a few moments to write after they were asleep.

On Thursday, I read a whole graphic novel before bed.

On Friday, my husband came home. We drank coffee, played video games, and did some writing and reading, respectively, before bed.

On Saturday, I mailed copies of both my first and second books to my parents, along with a late Mother’s Day card and an early Father’s Day card.

On Sunday, I folded a whole lot of laundry. We blew bubbles on the porch, watered the vegetable garden, and went to our girls’ first baseball game.

On Monday, I balanced an unpleasant but necessary errand in the morning by taking myself to see Wonder Woman.

Sometimes being a creator means a whole lot of guilt.

And today, I’m thinking that for as momentous as it seems and as it really is to be authoring, not much has changed or is likely to change for me. I work. I mother. I help take care of my family and my home. I don’t spend enough time nurturing relationships with friends, I don’t read enough books, I never write enough. I will waste time on Twitter. I will never see the end of little socks and undies vomited forth from the dryer. I will bake things and eat them even when I know that I shouldn’t. I will be inspired to write on my commute only to have my ideas flee when I have a moment to devote to them.

I’ll live and love and daydream of living and loving differently.

I’ll always want to be and do better.

I feel like the question comes up a lot, why do you write? And my answer is always the same. I can’t not write. There are days when I wish I didn’t feel the pressure to create, because I’m usually exhausted and only want to relax like a normal human. Watch television. Play Skyrim. Pursue any number of leisure activities without guilt. But that’s not who I am, perhaps especially on days when I wish that’s who I could be.

So, my second book has been out for a full week, and my life goes on. I’m working on something new. I’m obsessively checking for reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. I’m cooking and cleaning up and putting in my 40 hours a week. I am trying.

And that’s okay.

See You on the Other Side

My first book was first published nearly four years ago, and it’s been with me in one form or another for far longer than that. There have been a number of instances since that have made me feel like a “real” author, but honestly, with the launch of my second book newly behind me, a signing at my favorite local independent bookseller is the realest.

I love signings and I’ve written before about how conflicted I feel when I listen to other authors read and discuss their works, when I throw my money at them for a signed copy and some swag. I’m an avid reader and fangirl, and that’s not something that’s like to change, ever. But getting to be on the other side of the table, even once, it gives me thrills just thinking about it.

If you’re in Cincinnati or near to it, I hope you’ll consider stopping in and saying hello. I’ll be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at Rookwood Pavilion at 7 PM, discussing and signing both books. I’m going to be making buttons at our local library’s MakerSpace to give away, and I’ve also ordered cookies that will change your life. And, of course, there will be books!

Two Trick Pony

It seems foolish to dream for years (and years and years) about becoming a published author only to have pretty serious impostor syndrome once it finally happens. Despite continuing to write and being under contract to deliver the sequel to The Hidden Icon, I’ve felt with only one book under my publishing belt like a one trick pony.

But today, I guess, I can do flips and kicks. Can jump fences and braid my own mane? I don’t know. What sorts of tricks do ponies do? I’d probably honestly be the sort that just munches oats and lazes about.

While The Dread Goddess has been cropping up on shelves the last few days, it is now officially out in the world. You can buy it. You can read it. You can worry the pages thin, or use them for découpage projects if you don’t like how I’ve handled something. I’m thrilled to share it with you, and to continue Eiren’s story.

I do hope you like it. I loved writing it.

Author Confessions

There are some things I feel I need to admit to you.

  1. I used to believe a first draft was a final draft. I applauded myself for the fact that I didn’t revise, that my writing was somehow instinctual or, and I shudder, visceral. I skated through workshops in college under this assumption and now I am so very ashamed. My books? You don’t even want to know how aggressively edited they are. I could edit them forever.
  2. I have no patience for epigraphs. I get why they are there but find them unbearably pretentious and always skip them when I’m reading. I’m the worst.
  3. I work so much better under a deadline. Or maybe it’s just easier to explain to my family why they really must leave me alone for weeks at a time when I can attach a number to my plea.
  4. I blame my excessive narration problems on the fact that I used to be super active in the journal-based RP community. Mostly Harry Potter. It was considered poor form to respond with just one sentence or two, and I know my habit of overthinking every word and gesture is a result of basically creating characters through dialogue exchanges. Also, I miss having the time for this desperately.
  5. I crave commercial success. I want to nerd out over readers and meet them at book signings and gush over fan art. I write because I can’t not write and it satisfies a deep, creative need in me to build worlds and breathe life into new characters. But I also dream of being a career author, however distant or unattainable that might be. I want to be taken seriously enough to engage with authors I admire as a peer. I’ve been to a few readings and signings within the last few years, both in front of the audience and in it, and I know where I prefer to be. It shouldn’t matter. But it does.

I told you I was the worst.

Author Life Month? Author Every Month.

The author’s photo a day challenge I am participating in on Instagram this month is absolutely sustaining me. It only feels fitting to be sharing it with you at the tail end of Valentine’s Day, as every new day feels like I’m adding a line to a love letter addressed to readers, to Eiren’s world, to the craft of writing. I’ve always had good intentions when it comes to photo a day challenges but have previously lacked follow through. Not so this February.

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The prompt for this one was “killed darlings,” and this was one of oh-so-many I had to choose from. I always write more pretty things of little substance than I need.

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And “where I write,” which I’ve elaborated on before. But I felt this one showed some love to the stickers so rarely seen on the back of my laptop.

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These two were each collages of character inspirations, for Eiren and Gannet, respectively. You can read more on the original posts.

If you aren’t already following me on Instagram, please do. It’s the rare social media haven I can haunt on the regular right now – I feel rather guilty for my prolonged absence from Twitter and Facebook, longer even than was required for the heady rush of editing that consumed my January, and resulted in one of the strongest drafts I think I’ve ever written. Come May, I hope you think so, too.

The challenge carries on through the end of February and I think I’ll be looking for another one after. Any recommendations?

Under the Covers

My second book has a publication date, a title, and now it has a cover – along with a matching refresh of the first book which will be re-released in paperback at the same time. I haven’t been belting it from the rooftops because I am wildly superstitious. If I celebrate too soon, it won’t actually happen, right?

But, it is happening, so I’m going to make a little noise.

Here’s this first lovely little mystery. I feel so lucky to have seen my first book baby realized in not just one but three separate covers, and this one has a sweeping depth to it that I really love. I also had the opportunity I am sure far more deserving writers have dreamed of: to revisit a few sticky places in the story and make small but mighty edits to a book that was first published three years ago.

The Hidden Icon

I want to go to there.

And here, too.

The Dread Goddess

The Dread Goddess follows Eiren in her flight from Jhosch, from Gannet, and from herself as she attempts to reconcile who she knows she is – a gentle-souled storyteller – with the monstrous dread goddess who dwells within her. There’s more of her world, more stories, identities literally and figuratively unmasked, madness and havoc and kissing. I am extremely excited about continuing her story and I hope that you are, too.

And I won’t be sitting on my hands until their publication on May 30 of next year – I’ll be working on the third and final book, partnering with the spectacular Nita Basu of Diversion Books on some promotional fun times, and blogging and reading and mothering and dreaming. If there’s something I can do for you or questions I can answer about how I am not going slowly insane managing all of these things, you know how to reach me.

Where I Write

I am not one of those who prescribes to the notion of a writing sanctuary. While this doesn’t mean I don’t lust for a She Shed of my very own, it does mean I can’t let something like place determine my capacity and commitment to write.

Some of my favorite places for word craft?

  1. Doctor’s offices.
  2. In the car with a little one napping in the backseat.
  3. Meetings where my presence is not really necessary but is required.
  4. Coffee houses… really any, but I have a few favorites.
  5. My writing desk.

I have listed my writing desk last because it really is the one place where I do not spontaneously write – and thus the writing that happens there is the writing that feels the most like work.

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Because it is work, and sometimes a change of scenery, or an unexpected moment seized for creation rather than tedium, is all the motivation that I need.

But, my desk.

I write there, a lot. It’s a place of seriousness, of getting down to business, of meeting deadlines. I am lately interested in what I can do to make it a worthier space. I bought it a few years ago off of Craigslist after searching for “antique school desk,” and my dad refinished it for me. The top is still pocked with the vigorous efforts of some kid working to dismantle it a compass point at a time. The drawer is often stuffed full of drawings from my daughters, rogue colored pencils, beads, buttons, receipts for things I think I am going to return to the store but never actually do, and handwritten notes to myself about things that I am writing or want to write.

I leave it relatively bare, because I haven’t wanted distraction. There’s a jar of dice and a ceramic pencil cup filled with dry erase markers for my Pathfinder game, and I recently purchased a tiny, weighty iron owl who is meant to hold place cards but instead holds my gaze when my mind is wandering. It’s cozied up next to a functional fire place that is nevertheless rarely lit, and whose mantle is stuffed full of novels.

I have a lamp because warm light is essential, and an uncurtained window because soft, blue daylight is beautiful, too. There’s a print of a paper cut tree hanging on the wall. Sometimes there are dozens of post-its, usually not. It’s a good space: clean, comfortable, nook-like. I grew up in a bedroom that was probably the size of your closet, writing in bed with a spiral bound notebook balanced on my knees because there wasn’t room for any other furniture. So I like small. The less room there is for my body the more there is for my mind, right?

What about you? What are your creative spaces like?