Tag Archives: reading

Little Dog. Big World.

I love reading. I love writing. I love the idea that Somebody Somewhere reads the words I write. And yet, it’s terrifying.

IMAG0260My stories are small dogs in the giant kennel of life. They are but an infinitesimal dot on the landscape of literature. The period at the end of a single sentence in the vastness of the Library of Congress.

Yet my hope is that Somebody Somewhere will be impacted–in a good way–by the tales I tell. But there’s so much great writing out there already that I worry how my words will hold up against the books on the world’s bookshelf.

Over the last decade, I’ve had short stories, poetry and articles published in various places under various names. This past year alone has been a bit of a rush with six short stories in four anthologies, a major project in the works and a debut novel coming out this fall under my alter ego.

And yet I wonder: how will you find my writing? Physically and emotionally. Will you stumble across it on someone’s coffee table, on an Amazon recommended list, on GoodReads or a blog? Will you hear about it because Someone Somewhere said, “Hey, you have to read this.”? Or, will it languish in the corner like a naughty, half-starved mutt in the kennel? You know the ones. The kind so ugly they hurt your sensibilities with a yappy bark so annoying your ears bleed. Yeah, those dogs.

Confession time: I am terrified that in addition to being a small dog in a big world, my writing is subpar at best.

Although, Someone Somewhere took a chance on me. I’ve had an agent. I’ve had editors. I’ve even got a publisher. What I seem to struggle with is the confidence to just flop down with the big dogs like I belong.

How do you gather the courage to pursue your passions despite the fears that go along with them? Are you as terrified of succeeding as you are of failing? Do you ever feel like a little dog in a big world?

Curious minds want to know.

Mixed Massages: when what we say isn’t always heard

The view on the way down from Hanging Lake

Last week while visiting beautiful Colorado, I partook in a mixed-message massage that went something like this:

  • Masseuse: What are you looking for today?
  • Me: Well, I went hiking yesterday, so an overall massage would be great.
  • Him: Okay.

Only it apparently wasn’t okay.

I know because I’ve had massages before. Massages where my WHOLE body got a good rub down. Massages that actually targeted the muscles you specify. Massages that didn’t ignore the single largest muscle in your body, as well as the ever-important-to-mountain-climbing quads.

My masseuse, bless his heart, was either deaf or didn’t understand that my rear end was included in the I-went-hiking-whole-body-massage request. When it came time for working out the kinks in my gluteus maximus (aka, the largest muscle in the human body and one that is used extensively while hiking a mile and a half straight uphill to see an incredibly beautiful lake), he threw another blanket over my bum and poked at it like one might use a stick to prod a presumed-dead animal on the side of the road. When I rolled to my back, the only muscles not ignored were in my feet.

What I thought I said (a full body massage) and what he heard (only the parts you like most) were two completely different things.

Does this ever happen to you? Dear writers, how do you employ mixed messages to ramp up the tension between your characters? Dear readers, do mixed messages work in the books you peruse, or do you get tired of the main characters’ inability to communicate properly? 

As a married mother of four, I can attest that mixed messages occur on a regular basis. Thankfully, though, I’ve only had one mixed massage.

 

Giving Back: Researching Donation Options

So, as a writer with a handful of short stories and two books in the publication channels, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my goals as an author.

I want to make a difference in the lives of the kids I write for. I can do that in two ways. I can write compelling stories that help my readers reach their potential, and I can donate a certain amount of my proceeds to the causes I believe in.

The first option seems relatively easy in comparison to the second one. I have spent the last few weeks researching how best to donate to the futures of my potential audience. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it first seems.

In part, I balk at scholarships that have a GPA criteria. There are 1001 of them out there for outstanding students. These kids are already well on their way to success. Instead, I want to make sure the kids who benefit from any money/goods I donate are at risk of not succeeding.

You see, literacy is probably my biggest soap box issue. Poverty, crime and literacy rates are so tightly linked that some states base their need for prison beds on the reading success of elementary students. This is a great American travesty and not the only one out there when it comes to managing literacy.

Eldest Son has severe dyslexia. Completing high school was a struggle. Getting academic scholarships was not in his cards. Yet, according to research, his brain works six times harder to complete educational tasks as a traditional student’s. By rights shouldn’t that entitle him to six times the scholarship money? Alas, however, it is these students who fall through the cracks and end up in jail. The ones we don’t help succeed when it is whithin our ability to do so.

Another part of the equation is that many programs are geographically based. Sure I can donate to the Detroit area where 47% of the population is functionally illiterate. But I don’t live in Chicago. If I’m going to pinpoint a single geographic area, it will be my own.

Yet my neck of the woods doesn’t have a viable charity/scholarship for the individuals I want to help. In fact, my neck of the woods–because it’s small and at the corner of Nowhere and More Nowhere–gets overlooked by nearly all important services. As a whole, we are economically and educationally suppressed and service poor.

Anyway, long story short, I am having a difficult time finding a charity to donate to that hits the demographic I am passionate about: at risk students who could reach their potential if given the chance.

I want to be part of that chance.

Any suggestions?

A-Z: Appetizer

Holidays are divine, as far as I’m concerned. While spending time with family always tops my list of great things to do, spending time with family in the kitchen surrounded by scrumptious appetizers warrants a spot one cloud away from heaven.

Suffice it to say, my taste buds were thrilled this past weekend. And now, thanks to Jenny Hansen, my appetite has been stimulated again.

Following in her footsteps, I’ve taken the A-Z Challenge. During the month of April, I will blog my way through the alphabet, taking only Sundays off for good behavior. If you are as crazy as me, you can join the fun by clicking on this link and signing up for a month of blogging madness before the end of today.

If you’re only semi-crazy, you can follow my journey and that of other insane and talented bloggers for the next thirty days. A list of their blogs will appear here. And don’t fret, not all of them are geared toward writing. Check the codes next to their name to see if one fits your interests.

For instance, I have a (WR) listed next to my blog which stands for writing. Other categories include things like crafting, cooking, gardening, gaming, movies, books, education, etc. You name it, someone is blogging about it. So, please, check out the list and see if any names tickle your tweeter.

In the meantime, I will do what I do best–tie together writing and real life!

APPETIZERS

The whole purpose of an appetizer is to get you hungry. Chefs have long ago figured out that stimulating the appetite with a tasty morsel can have you begging for more.

Writers are no different. We spend oodles of time crafting the perfect literary teaser for our works. We do this in the form of the elevator pitch, the query letter, the back cover blurb and the synopsis.

Like great chefs, we condense entire meals into delectable phrases and enticing sentences. We give our potential readers a tiny taste of what’s to come in one compact creation.

A is for Appetizer: that small portion of perfectly blended words that whet the literary appetite.

Perfect it like your favorite dish and stimulate your reader’s hunger.

My top five apps are, in no particular order:

  • Homemade guacamole. Add a margarita and I could die happy.
  • Chili conqueso. Simple, not pretty to look at, but incredibly delish.
  • Cucumber dill dip. Nothing says spring like a fresh scoop of this!
  • Buffalo chicken dip. Scooped up with celery…yummmmm.
  • And a plain old veggie tray complete with cukes, mushrooms, cauliflower and peppers of every color.

One of my favorite literary appetizers is from a quaint MG novel by Ingrid Law. Savvy has a supercharged cover for young readers and a jacket blurb that had me hooked.

Mibs Beaumont is about to become a teenager. As if that prospect weren’t scary enough, thirteen is when a Beaumont’s savvy strikes–and with one brother who causes hurricanes and another who creates electricity, it promises to be outrageous…and positively thrilling. 

What’s your favorite appetite teaser?

Curious minds want to know.

Writers are to Readers as Cats are to Dogs

The other day, my Dear Daughter played a funny video on YouTube. One segment showed a baby kitty slipping down a slide, desperately mewing for its mommy to come save it.

Our labrador pup totally freaked out. With every cry, she would tilt her head nearly sideways and peer around the room in search of the kitten. DD then slipped her kindle under the couch and pushed play. Said lab dug furiously at the tiny space between the furniture and the floor in an attempt to get to the feline in distress.

I’m not sure what she would have done with a baby kitty if she’d gotten a hold of one, but she was one interested pup.

That should be the relationship writers strive for with their audiences–an all-consuming interest that nearly drives readers wild.

Dear writer friends, what do you do to make your readers’ ears perk up? How do you snag your readers’ attention so they don’t wander away from your book on the shelf to another title further down? What makes your stories as appealing as a kitten mew to a hunting dog?

Curious minds want to know.

The Question of Rape and Dark YA

I recently came across an essay written by Eve Ensler that is powerful and heart wrenching. It’s a must-read for any woman who has suffered or potentially will suffer at the hands of a rapist. And yes, every last woman is at risk no matter your age, religion, race or socio-economic standing. It’s also a must-read for fathers and grandfathers, uncles and brothers and church leaders and politicians. All of whom are also at risk of being assaulted by another human being or of loving someone who has been.

Ms. Ensler’s essay is one of the most articulate, honest and heartfelt answers to the question of what rape does to the human soul.

It is one of the reasons behind YA’s dark nature: reality is terrifying. Also, for some kids, fictional characters–found on their library shelves at school–are the only people they trust to help them navigate the tragedies of their lives. They are the ones who don’t judge.

Dark YA does not perpetuate dark themes. Rather it examines all angles of tough issues and gives kids hope. It declares that they are not alone in their struggles. It proves that someone, somewhere cares. It shows that someone inexplicably gets it. Gets them.

It strengthens and helps heal as it gives voice to the reality–so tragic and terrifying–that many of us will never understand. Knock on wood.

Read Eve Ensler’s letter on rape. Support the ones you care about. And for the love of all that’s human, don’t be so quick to decry dark YA themes that sicken you or make you uncomfortable. Because reality is such that someone already experienced the pain you can’t stand to read, and more will follow.

Hurt does not discriminate. People do.

Dark YA can help break down the walls and heal a nation that suffers by its own hands. So, please help me make a list of novels that aim to do just that.

I’ll start: Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman

Book Reviews Gone Wild: things I won’t listen to and those I will

I just sent Dear Daughter and five of her speech friends to speech camp. They’ll be there for a week, learning how to create and perform speeches in various categories for competition against their peers.

They will be judged.

Hopefully not too harshly, nor too falsely. Because, you see, they can’t get better if they are lied to. Even if it saves a hurt feeling or two, empty feedback provided in a way to only uplift and not to teach will not help them get better. It will not prepare them for the upcoming speech season. It will not help them pinpoint their flaws so they know what to work on.

Sound familiar?

Pull up Amazon or GoodReads. Now, click on a book–any book–and read the reviews. What did you find?  Something sugar-coated with no substance? A scathing review penned by the devil himself? Hurtful words, helpful hints or something in between?

Book reviews serve a purpose: to guide fellow readers in choosing their next beach read.

This type of publicity shouldn’t be directed by anything other than the reviewer’s opinion of the book. It shouldn’t matter if she met the author at a book signing. It shouldn’t matter if the author is the reviewer’s best friend. It shouldn’t matter if the author is Great Aunt Martha and she’s promised the farm in return for a glowing review.

Sadly, however, it seems to. More and more, books are reviewed with the author in mind, not the writing itself, and certainly not future readers. Blog friends return favors by selling word of mouth to reach a broader audience with their own published work. Amazon’s stars are not always given for unbiased purposes. Heck, rumor has it some of the bling is paid for. Or worse yet, it’s the author and his/her band of besties spamming stars on the bulletin board to trick readers into buying.

Gah! What’s a discerning reader to do? How do we pick solid books with content and writing style that interests us? How do we see past the ploys and make sure our money is spent wisely?

Personally, I’m wary of the all five-star books. If a novel has twenty-five reviews and every last one of them is a five, I run. And because of that, I very rarely give out five stars of my own. In fact, I think I’ve reserved that honor for a mere (and literal) handful of books.

I’m wary of the reviews that gush, yet have no substance. “It was amazing.” “Best book I ever read.” And…, why is that? If someone is either gushing or degrading, I want to know why. If they can’t tell me, I avoid the novel like I’d avoid the stink sac on a skunk.

If the review appears cautiously kind, I usually don’t read any further. This is a reviewer trying really hard not to hurt the author’s feelings. It means the book was not good. It didn’t live up to the reader’s expectations, yet he is too nice to say anything hurtful.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “So who/what the heck do you trust in a review?”

Constructive honesty.

Circling back to my speech kids and the critiques I want them to get this week at camp: constructive honesty.

I like hearing what works and what doesn’t. I like kindness with a purpose. I like substance–not a blow-by-blow of the novel (or speech)–but rather a gut reaction on how those words made the reviewer feel. And I like to know what needs improvement if it’s a real issue: grammar, spelling, characterization, etc…

What types of book reviews do you trust? Which ones make you cautious? Do you purchase books based on reviews and/or the star rating? Share your experiences about that great book with bad reviews or the five-star flop you got schnookered into purchasing. What made you choose to go against the ratings?

Curious minds want to know.

Get Off Your Soap Box: Literacy

I have a few soap box issues.  Namely child welfare and literacy.  Now, child welfare is a pretty big soap box and can include things like food, shelter and literacy, which means I very likely have stacked my soap boxes on top of each other.  Not a good thing if I ever need to climb down.

Which is exactly what I’m doing this week.  I am finally getting off my soap box and doing something about the things I believe in.

LITERACY

This could be my biggest soap box issue and likely stems from Eldest’s struggles with dyslexia.  It could also be from watching adults settle into a life of poverty and crime because they never reached their potential due to their own struggles with reading.  Or, it’s possible that my desire for a literate world is due to the fact that I’m a writer and firmly believe that everyone deserves the pleasure of escaping into a good book.

Regardless of why, I have a big literacy soap box.

 A Few Horrifying Facts

  • Libraries recycle their books that they unshelve or that don’t sell at book sale fundraisers.  Last year, my local library recycled three pallets of books.  Recycled, not recirculated.  As in trashed.  Never to be read again.  Wasted.
  • Books are expensive.  Yeah, I know.  Even discounted books cost more money than some people have.  In some ways, reading is a luxury.  A rich person’s hobby.  Don’t believe me?  Consider this choice: feed your kids or buy a book?  How about this one: pay rent or buy a book?  Read a book or take a shower?  Jeans or words?
  • Go to the library, you say?  Well, a lot of families living pay check to pay check work when the library is open.  And when they are not working, they are raising children–which includes grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and homework.  Not to mention, not all towns have libraries.  And not all people have reliable transportation.  And public transit costs money.
  • Illiteracy is symptomatic and genetic.  Okay, not 100% true, but if Mom doesn’t read and there are no books in the house, what are the chances that Junior will read?  If Dad is functionally illiterate and can’t read a bedtime story to Junior, there is no positive behavior for Junior to model.  Literacy, or the lack thereof, is a vicious cycle.
  • Poverty and crime are linked to literacy levels.  Pages of statistics support this.  I would like pagest of statistics to celebrate the success of communities sharing literacy, instead.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  Because I’m getting off my soap box.  Right now.  I’ve finally put my brains to good use and said, “Self, who has the least access to books?”

To which I answered, “People who can’t afford them.”

And where will I most likely find people who can’t afford to read?  At the food shelf.  If you can’t buy milk, you sure as heck can’t buy a book.

So, how did I get off my soap box?  I spoke with the director of our local food shelf about putting a bookshelf in their building.  I have a gorgeous oak bookcase that has nowhere to reside in my home.  It will look stunning filled with free books.

Additionally, I have boxes of books in my basement that I’ll never read again.  Hardcover and paper back alike.  Romance, mystery, thrillers, poetry, memoirs, westerns, YAs, middle grade, adult…all just sitting there in darkness.  Over the next few months, I will cull them and rebox them to take to the food shelf.  When people come in, they can add some brain food to their bags.

I’ve also talked with our librarian.  After our annual book sale, the remaining, gently-used books will also grace the shelves in the food shelf.  If–if–our food shelf can relocate to a spot big enough to house these books.  But that’s a whole ‘nother soap box and one I’ll be looking into.  If the food shelf fails to be a viable option due to financial/space issues, I have an alternative in mind.

So, dear readers, is literacy a soap box issue for you?  If so, how do you actively address this need?  Share your tips with other like-minded folks.  If you haven’t considered being actively involved until now, what ideas do you have to get off your soap box and make a difference? 

What do you think of the food shelf literacy program?  If you’re willing to contact all the right people and get one started in your area, give us a shout out in the comments.  We’d love to cheer you on!

My challenge for the week: if you are passionate about something, don’t just talk about it.  Get off your soap box and do something.

 

Dark YA: Catalyst or Cure?

Currently in the news: a 10-month-old baby is missing, a 23-year-old woman was slaughtered and her unborn baby harvested, a high schooler was shot while eating lunch.

We openly acknowledge these events because of the public way in which they were committed.  If we had a choice, we would scrub these memories from our minds and go about our own lives oblivious to the pain others have suffered.  Not because we don’t care, but because it scares us to do so.

Dark YA takes this a step further.  It dares to dig into the hidden.  It probes into dirty secrets and spills the details in a way that makes our stomachs churn.  Some readers embrace it, while other feel the need to challenge it.

Categorically, young adult novels that deal with serious topics fall under great scrutiny.  They are frequent targets of challenges by parents, politicians and religious leaders.

I’m not exactly sure what makes a book dark.  By my best guess, Dark YA is visceral.  It often makes the reader feel uncomfortable or unsettled because of the topic and the raw nature in how it is presented.  It is almost always emotionally disturbing.

Take Unwind, for instance.

“Well-written, this draws the readers into a world that is both familiar and strangely foreign, and generates feelings of horror, disturbance, disgust and fear. As with classics such as 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, one can only hope that this vision of the future never becomes reality.”–Kirkus Reviews as found at Amazon.

In Unwind, Neal Shusterman tackles the very heavy issue of right to life versus the right to choose.  Abortion is settled in a way that satisfies both sides, but is unnerving to the reader.  His solution is unthinkable.  Thankfully, however, authors like Mr. Shusterman are not afraid to write about taboo subjects.

Yet for every great review these books get, a negative reaction will surface because some people believe dark YA encourages bad behavior and experimentation.  They blame certain books for the emergence of homosexuals in our communities.  For the romanticism of cutting.  For the acceptance of eating disorders and the escalating numbers of teen suicides.

I beg to differ.  I firmly believe these dark topics have always been a part of the human race.  We’ve just chosen to push them under the rug and pretend they don’t exist.  We scrub them from our memories, because to remember is to care and to care is to take action.

Incest, domestic abuse, theft, rape, alcoholism, drugs, teen pregnancies, homosexuality, religious persecution and bullying–these things have been around since recorded history in some form or other.  We are just now giving our kids the means to understand and cope with the experiences in their lives.

Dark YA?  Yeah, it most definitely serves as a form of therapy.  It is the chance to acknowledge the fear, anger, shame and impotence that haunts our children today.  And, most likely the adults who read it.

These books don’t encourage poor choices.  Rather, they validate that we are not alone, that we are accepted and that we can survive.  In my mind, Dark YA is a message of hope for a better future.  It is a call to action and change.  It is balm for our wounded souls.

What says you?  Do these hot button topics belong in YA?  Why or why not?  How do these books stimulate poor choices?  How do they encourage, inspire and motivate?  Is Dark YA the reason for our social ills or the therapy our kids need to overcome a dark existence?

Curious minds want to know.

Hodge Podge

I turned 40 on Monday, watched my two godson’s, went school shopping for my own four children, picked up Eldest Son’s senior picture proofs (now that made me feel my full 40 years) and am packing and cleaning for the Holiday weekend. 

I’m guessing next week’s blog will be sporadic at best, as our kids start school on Tuesday, I have a meeting on Wednesday, football starts Thursday and I’m flying out to visit my Big Sister for my birthday present.  (Thanks you, incredibly awesome Dear Hubby!)

Also, my computer has been acting its age–who knew it wouldn’t make it out of toddlerhood?!?!?–and throwing temper tantrums.  Needless to say, I’ve been reading more than writing lately.

So what have I read:

POSSESSION by Elana Johnson: great, dystopian YA

GERMS, GENES AND CIVILIZATION: don’t ask.  My Big Sister ordered it on Kindle and since we share accounts I ran across this monster of a science book…and got hooked.  Who knew the ologies could be so fun?

Pete Morin’s short stories: UNEASY LIVING.  Run, don’t walk to find this anthology.  I love his wit and charm and the way his stories really make me think. 

Also just finished THE DARK AND HOLLOW PLACES, another YA, though this is the third in Carrie Ryan’s trilogy.  Lovely writing, though a bit of a downer before you get the pick-me-up at the end.  But, of course, you say.  It’s a post apocalyptic novel…

Next on the list: THE PRAIRIE GRASS MURDERS by Patricia Stoltey.

And that’s a wrap. 

Hugs to all!