Thursday, November 29, 2012
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Saturday, November 24, 2012
With the countdown to Christmas looming, there's also another important countdown in my life. My debut novel, The Marble Queen, is (finally) set to launch December 18, 2012. I'd like to thank three wonderful ladies who've come into my life. Each of them blurbed my book, and I'm forever grateful.
Lisa Graff, author of Double Dog Dare and other hilarious books. She said this about my book: "The Marble Queen is enchanting from beginning to end. Whether she’s force-feeding her little brother worms, or showing the boys a thing or two about shooting marbles, Freedom Jane McKenzie is feisty, funny, fearless, and entirely irresistible. A dazzling debut." Lisa was the first reader many years ago. She gave me some invaluable revision advice and I've never forgotten it.
Nan Marino, author of Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me. I'm a huge fan of Nan's book--in awe of the perfectness of the story, actually. She was so generous in her blurb. "Rich with historical details, The Marble Queen will pull you back to 1959 but Freedom Jane McKenzie is a protagonist for all time. Whether she’s knee deep in family struggles or proving to the world she has what it takes to play marbles with the boys, Freedom’s voice rings out with determination, humor and warmth."
And Barbara O'Connor, author of many lovely books, including her recent one, On the Road to Mr. Mineo's. Her witty Facebook posts and awesome writing tips have brightened many of my days. I want to be Barbara when I grow up. She said, "I didn't want The Marble Queen to end. I wanted to stay with Freedom and her oh-so-real family forever. I wanted to keep watching her play marbles with the boys. And I wanted just one more visit with the kind but eccentric next door neighbor. Blake has combined the fascinating world of childhood marble-playing with the ups and downs of perfectly realistic characters. A winner!"
Friday, November 23, 2012
An unexpected benefit of my three week trip last summer to Italy, was a reduction in muscle pains and stiffness that had plagued me for years. When I mention this, everyone says, “of course, you were on vacation—no stress.”
Wrong. I largely traveled alone in a foreign country—lots of stress, though much of it good stress. No, I felt better because for the first time in decades, I had three weeks off from sitting eight hours a day in front of a computer. As fate would have it, lots of information came out last summer about the health perils of spending your life sitting. Check out these statistics from an article on The New York Times blog:
"Every single hour of television watched after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes."
"By comparison, smoking a single cigarette reduces life expectancy by about 11 minutes, the authors said."
"Looking more broadly, they concluded that an adult who spends an average of six hours a day watching TV over the course of a lifetime can expect to live 4.8 years fewer than a person who does not watch TV."
"Those results hold true, the authors point out, even for people who exercise regularly."
"...those people with the “highest sedentary behavior,” meaning those who sat the most, had a 112 percent increase in their relative risk of developing diabetes; a 147 percent increase in their risk for cardiovascular disease; and a 49 percent greater risk of dying prematurely — even if they regularly exercised."
So I researched what are called sit-stand work stations. Though they are becoming more common, you will not yet find them at your local office depot. Before buying anything, I decided to give writing on my feet a test. I simply piled boxes on a table and put my laptop on top. After two weeks, I decided I loved writing on my feet.
So, after more research, I bought the Annua Work Table from Dania. Solidly built, it is big enough for my laptop, a cup of tea, and a book.
With the touch of a button, I can adjust the height from sitting to standing—anywhere from 28 to 41 inches. And the work table is well designed--the table top comes forward in the lower positions so it is easy to work in a chair. I can roll it on casters anywhere—I move from window to window, depending on time of day and season. Next summer, I plan to roll it out under my umbrella on the patio. I use the work table’s sturdy base for a footrest—it is important to have one foot on a foot rest some of the time to alleviate pressure on the low back. After more research, I invested in an anti-fatigue mat to stand on. Get a good one—it really does make a difference.
Although I alternate between standing—an hour or so—and sitting—30 minutes or so, I find I now prefer to work standing up. There is something about the looseness of it. Not only I do have fewer muscle pains, I also have more energy at the end of the day. I am now setting up a larger sit-stand work table, for the graphic design work I do. You don’t have to spend a lot of money…check out the ideas on this pinterest site.
So, writers out there, for your health, for your work—stand up for writing. You will feel better and live longer.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Speaking of subtle shades, our leaves this autumn are more on the subtle side. But as I was out filming these clips, I was struck by just how beautiful subtlety can be...
I'm grateful this Thanksgiving for more reasons than I could ever put all in a single blog post. And I hope your lives are all brimming with similar gratitude.
Happy Thanksgiving to all our lovely bloggers and readers here at Smack Dab!
Saturday, November 17, 2012
It's November. What that means is that it's time for National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org), during which I have the best-laid plans of writing 1,667 words per day in order to finish a 50,000-word novel by November 30.
Two and a half weeks in, I've had two 1,667-word days, some three or four thousand word days ... and a whole lot of big-fat-zero-word days. I've also got two apartments full of moving boxes. I'm ten thousand words behind, I'm tired, I'm crabby, and I'm lucky to remember to put on socks and shoes before leaving the apartment.
So I'm walking -- quickly -- home from the library when I hear a voice nearby:
"Where's your coat, girl?"
I snap out of my plot-gap-induced depression long enough to register that there is a man standing next to me, wearing a worn-looking jacket, ripped jeans, and a scuffed-up pair of shoes.
Plenty of answers flash through my mind:
"At home, because I'm a crazy writer who can't think about word counts and weather at the same time."
"Lost, along with my momentum and possibly my talent."
"See? I can't even make myself behave sensibly, let alone my characters."
I go with, "I left it at home."
And then this man starts to unzip his own jacket, which is already too light for the dropping temperature. "Here, darlin', take mine."
I refuse, with thanks, and reassure him that I'm not far from home. Then I walk away, feeling very different than I did just a moment ago.
I am thankful, every day, for my crazy job writing stuff down. I'm thankful for the opportunity to get paid for playing with words. I'm also thankful for my warm coat, even if sometimes I forget to wear it, and the cozy, safe apartments I'm moving out of and into.
Today, mostly I'm thankful for that man, and for people like him. Sometimes I forget how wonderful human beings can be, and I'm so grateful to be reminded.
Friday, November 16, 2012
Earlier this week, I spent some time explaining the concept of Thanksgiving to my son. We live in Wales, not America, but since he has dual US/UK citizenship (as do I), I really want to keep him in touch with the American holidays that are still important to me as well as the ones that he celebrates with his classmates.
Of course, since I'm vegetarian, my husband's vegan, and none of us watch football, some people wouldn't recognize my version of Thanksgiving at all! But it was always my favorite holiday when I was younger, because it's a holiday all about gathering family together with no commercial motives - it's just about taking a moment to appreciate each other and really be thankful for everything we have.
After I explained this to my son, we spent some time talking about what we're thankful for...
...and then I started thinking about how important the concept of Thanksgiving really is to me - and how desperately I need it, as a writer.
Being a writer means having a set of goalposts that are constantly changing. First, all you want is to finish something, and be happy with what you've written. Then you want to get published. Then you want to get a good deal. Then it's time to worry about sales numbers, popularity, future deals...
...And if you aren't careful, it's way too easy to forget all the good things that happened along the way.
This year on Thanksgiving, I won't be having a big feast with family and friends, because it's a school day (and school night) here in Wales, and all of MrD's cousins are out of town, while my parents and brothers are all far away in America. I'll be celebrating Thanksgiving with my husband and my son and our dog, though, taking a moment to be truly thankful for my family (all of it, including the relatives spread around the world), my friends...and, yes, everything that's happened with my writing, too.
Maybe it's normal to focus on what's coming next, on what we're hoping to someday achieve...but it's great to have at least one day a year that's all about stopping and just appreciating where we already are.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
In 1962 when I was six years old my father was a New Jersey State Trooper assigned to the Division of Civil Defense/Disaster Control. I remember him going away for a week because of the great Nor'Easter that hit the New Jersey coast in May that year. When he returned home he showed me some 8x10 black and white glossy photos of the devastation, where Long Beach Island was literally cut in half by the ocean, houses were flattened, and cars and boats were piled like toys in scattered heaps. It seemed to me at the time like something out of a movie. Fifty years later it happened again, this time courtesy of Hurricane Sandy.
I'm incredibly thankful that the effects we encountered in my town were limited to downed trees and fences and a power outage that lasted only four days. As I'm sure you've seen on the news or maybe encountered yourself, parts of New Jersey and New York suffered far, far worse and many are still without power and housing and are reeling from the devastation.
From Day One New Jersey began bouncing back with many groups and communities organizing to raise money, supply food, and offer various forms of help and comfort. One response you might be interested in has been put together by fellow author and Rutgers alumni (Go RU!) Kieran Viola. Kieran has organized YA For NJ. This will consist of an auction of autographed books by about 160 YA authors from across the country. All money raised will go to The Food Bank of New Jersey (four star charity as rated by Charity Navigator). The auction will take place on Ebay on November 30, 2012. For more information check out the facebook page:
If you are interested or know librarians or other book lovers that would like to grab some cool autographed books and other author goodies for their collections and at the same time contribute to a worthy cause, please pass them the word about this great event. Here's the link. Thanks for letting me share this with you. Happy Thanksgiving!
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
—he has come to kill Ariadne's beloved brother.
When the book arrived, I'm afraid I held up the cover and had Ariadne smooch the cover of King of Ithaka.
And now for the giveaway! Leave a comment here sometime in the next week (by midnight, November 20) and I'll choose someone at random to receive a signed—or not, as you prefer—copy of the paperback of Dark of the Moon.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
If you think beyond the turkey and the football, November is often about choice, though choice goes for turkey and football, too. Choose the drumstick or wing. Root for Dallas or Detroit, both or neither. Vote Republican, Democrat, or Independent. Shiver in the light jacket or be weighed down by the heavy coat.
Some such choices have few lingering effects. Most, in fact, are forgotten by week’s end. But as authors, when we make even the most insignificant choices for our characters (sweet potatoes or mashed, maybe), it can change their literary lives. It can change the whole story.
Case in point ...
When my next book, The Gollywhopper Games 2 opens, Cameron is wedged between his two brothers in the back seat of the family car. My decision to put him there, to begin the book at that moment with that detail was, in reality, a whim. It was time to get this book started, and that seemed as good a starting point as any. With that one choice, though, I suddenly understood Cameron, his personality and the pathway he would take through his journey. I could have stopped after chapter one. I could have started again with a different detail and a different character, but I didn’t. That singular choice had major implications for the rest of the story, much more than his later decision to choose a hotdog with mustard. The fact is, not all literary decisions are equal.
I wish I could say I made many character decisions last November. That would make this entry very circular and satisfying, wouldn’t it? But I don’t usually get to make character choices on my schedule. After a while, the characters seem to make choices for me. For myself, however, I still can choose a thick piece of white meat, and I’ll take both sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, please. Oh, and pass the pumpkin pie.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Of course, the beginning of November meant that Christmas was just around the corner. In my family, Christmas wasn't about wrapped gifts under the tree. Sometimes I sat with a catalog and circled items with hope sparking in my heart. But more importantly, Christmas was the day dreams came true. Magic always happened. Every year, this magic looked different. One year, I dreamed of being an actress all year, but ran into dead end after dead end. That Christmas, my parents gave me everything I needed to create plays with friends at home, a box of costumes, set pieces, and props. The impossible would come true on Christmas, and after a while, I came to expect miracles.
On the flip side, I took to heart my own responsibility for making magic. I would find the one thing that I could give my parents that would show them, truly, how much I loved them. For instance, a book filled with pictures and memories of our year, or a poem penned for them, or a fairy tale starring them as the main character, written and illustrated by yours truly.
As you can imagine, making magic required a huge investment of time in the months leading up to Christmas. But I loved every part of it, the planning, the creation, the final product, and of course, the look of astonishment and joy on my parents' faces when they opened their gifts. As for the magic they made for me... well, I guess that was about hope. I believed, and I still do, that during this one season, when we all take time to think about one another more than we think of ourselves, situations shift. Roadblocks melt away, and new possibilities abound.
My dreams are bigger now and they feel like a further reach. But even so, I have already felt the sparks of magic popping up around me. It comes in an email from a friend who writes, "I found this small business counseling program that I think might help make your program for young writers thrive." It comes in an unexpectedly free day on which I can sit and work on that novel that's percolating around in my heart. It comes in the thrilling idea for a gift for a friend which catches my fancy and sends me into a creative frenzy.
Look around... you might be astonished where magic pops up for you. And take some time to make some magic for someone else, too. A very little goes an awfully long way.
Monday, November 5, 2012
|Bill and me at our college dance|
Saturday, November 3, 2012
And since November is National Family Stories Month, what better time to throw down a quilt, pop some corn and cozy up the whole household with a book?
Try any of the amazing titles listed here on the sidebar. Or some classics like CHARLOTTE'S WEB, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, THE BLACK STALLION, LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE...
or perhaps some other 2012 releases like these: