People are People (Thoughts on Charlottesville)

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From the moment I heard this morning that white supremacists carrying torches surrounded a church last night in Charlottesville, Virginia, I’ve been alternately watching the events unfold on TV, or checking Twitter or news sites to find out the latest developments. (Yes, even when I should have been doing other things, like at a write-in this afternoon where I wrote a grand total of 200 words. Only two hundred.) It’s frightening and unreal, and the fact that a woman actually died today, when a driver used his car as a weapon, and about twenty other people were injured. A handful of those people are in critical or serious condition. Others were injured, too, when the racists and counter-protesters clashed. In the afternoon, a police helicopter that was monitoring events from above crashed outside of Charlottesville, killing two officers, though I’m not sure if they were state or local police.

I agree with many of the politicians and pundits who labeled the car crash as an act of domestic terrorism, if the investigation finds that the driver’s actions were intentional. Beyond that, were the people attending the Alt-Right rally (“Unite the Right”) encouraging domestic terrorism, even if they weren’t directly involved in any physical altercations? There have been so many mass shootings, and other acts of violence and hate — bombings of mosques and churches, stabbings motivated by extremist beliefs — in cities across the country, and around the world. Something about today’s events in Charlottesville feels different to me, though. It wasn’t just one person — a “lone wolf” who is either mentally ill or a radical extremist — or a small handful of people who espouse a hateful ideology. No. This was a group of people, perhaps hundreds of them, coming together to rally in shared hatred of people who are different from themselves. (If not actual hatred in the heart of every single participant, then at the very least a shared belief that they, white heterosexual “Christian” men — it had to be overwhelmingly men — are better than, more important than, and superior to, members of every other group and class of people.)

The media reported so many instances today of public figures denouncing not only the actions of the participants who showed aggression toward the counter-protesters and/or became violent, but also condemning the messages of hate, racism, and anti-Semitism these people were spreading. It wasn’t only liberals/Democrats; many conservatives/Republicans also issued strong statements against the ideologies of the rally participants. I truly hope today will be a turning point for our country. We have been divided for too long. Hate speech is not the same as free speech. Today’s rally wasn’t about a different point of view; it was a gathering of people who hate, and seek to oppress, people who are unlike themselves. I truly believe that most people are mostly good, and want to be kind to others. We must stand up for one another, and stand together against hatred, prejudice, and cruelty.

I thought of a song today that I can’t help sharing with you: “People are People” by Depeche Mode.

#Charlottesville

#LoveTrumpsHate

View “People are People” on YouTube

Touching base: writing update, audiobooks, and everyday stuff

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Just checking in on my blog/website for a little while this evening — after months of neglect — and found this paragraph on the “About” page:

Although the book I published is a poetry collection, I’ve turned my attention to fiction, and have spent much of 2015 working on my first novel — specifically, a romance novel. My primary goal for 2016 is to finish and publish it.

Soooo… oops? Life has a way of interrupting writing plans. I’ve tweaked that bit so it’s now accurate. As far as the status of that novel, it is much closer to being a complete first draft. Thanks to several weekend Write-In sessions at my local library, with other members of the area’s National Novel Writing Month group (who write and/or edit all year, not only in November), I’ve made solid progress in June and July. I’ve done minor revising of some scenes, major rewrites of other scenes, and have written a few new ones as well. I still have a few gaps in the story that require new scenes, and I’m not sure if my current “black moment” is serious enough. To top it off, I still need to decide how to resolve the main conflict and bring my couple together at the end. It sounds like a lot, now that I’ve spelled it out here, but I’m sitting at about 54,000 words now, and I feel really good about the revisions I’ve made and the parts I’ve added. Overall, it’s a higher-quality draft than I had three months ago. I just need to make some plot and character decisions, write out the results of those decisions, and find me an editor.

What else? I’m going through an audiobook phase at the moment, because once in a while, I can’t decide if I want a writing and/or publishing podcast, a book discussion podcast, or a political podcast. (I’ve also started tapering one of my two antidepressant meds, so that could be messing with my mood sometimes. Yeah, it probably is.) Anyway, way back when I found audiobooks, one of my earliest favorite narrators was Davina Porter. I listened to several mysteries just because she narrated them. Well, I’ve now listened to my first Agatha Raisin mystery by M. C. Beaton: Hiss and Hers. It was a pleasure from start to finish, not only because Davina Porter is a masterful reader (as expected), but because Agatha Raisin is a character you can’t help rooting for even as she drives people nuts. I understand now why Simon Savidge (UK blogger & bookish bloke, and co-host of The Readers podcast) loves this mystery series.

I finished the M. C. Beaton last weekend, and started my next audiobook two days ago. It’s a historical romance by Tessa Dare, called Romancing the Duke. I don’t remember the reader’s name off the top of my head, but she’s doing a really good job. It’s between eight and nine hours, and I’m about halfway through. It. Is. Awesome. I’m planning to listen to the rest of it on Sunday while I do housecleaning. Sunday is my birthday, and we’ll have family over that evening for my birthday supper, but I don’t mind spending a good chunk of the morning and early afternoon cleaning if I can listen to this wonderful and entertaining story with minimal interruptions from other humans (and also pets).

Most evenings, in recent months, I spend too much time watching news programs and/or reading news online, often with Twitter open on the phone I’m holding. I can’t believe we have a narcissistic dumbass in the White House. I think I appreciate journalists and TV news reporters more now, and in the last six months, than I ever have before in my life.

My younger son made the freshman baseball team this past spring, and then he played with his regular team from late May until this year’s last tournament, two weeks ago near Norman, Oklahoma. (They finished fourth of fourteen teams in that tourney — not too shabby.) Then, the coach wrote to us three days ago to say that his kid has another opportunity for next year, and a few other kids are looking at other options for next year, so obviously he won’t be coaching, and basically we don’t have a team. Jeff is a little stressed because instead of being all set for baseball next year, we suddenly have no plan, and Ryan might need to try out for other teams in the very near future. I’m disappointed, because I loved this team, and really felt it was where we belonged, but as far as what happens now… that’s just not my department.

Work is mostly the same, and keeps me busy and tired. (The Oklahoma trip was the closest we got to a vacation this year, with two days off before, then Monday off to recover back at home, after not getting home until very late Sunday night.) I’m taking a day off this coming week to get the boys registered for school, and hopefully do a little more writing or revising. Then, only a couple weeks until they go back to school. The roller coaster might slow down a little, once in a while, but it never stops.

A Family’s Fences

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While I was at Smith College, probably in the spring semester of 1994, I took an American Theater class. It was there that I first heard of August Wilson, and read his award-winning play, Fences. I don’t actually read too many plays, but I’ve always enjoyed attending the performances. (Thinking back, at this moment, it’s clear I haven’t seen enough of them. I ought to try to see more — maybe, sometime.) Occasionally, though, even when it’s on the page instead of a stage, a play’s power and brilliance is clear to me, and I can see and hear it in my imagination, and it thrills and moves me. This is what happened when I read Fences for that literature class. I didn’t need to see the play performed to know it was amazing.

Near the end of the semester, everyone had to research a topic related to something we’d covered in the class, and write a paper. I tried to do that, but hit a wall. However, before having a meltdown, I had a new idea, and thankfully, when I pitched it to my professor, she said I could try it. Instead of doing a paper, I wrote poems inspired by and/or responding to most of the plays we’d read that semester. They weren’t my best work, but they were an honest attempt to express some of what I’d learned from the variety of plays we’d covered. In her notes on the packet I’d given her, my professor actually thanked me for suggesting the project, saying she’d enjoyed reading the poems, especially the one about Fences. I was pleased by that, because I also felt it was the best one in the bunch.

Last weekend, before the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony ended with a brief mix-up about which film actually won Best Picture — which was apparently like the three most confusing minutes in Oscar history, and which dominated all the post-awards discussion — the moment that brought me to tears was the speech by Viola Davis, who won Best Supporting Actress for her work in Fences, playing Rose. I haven’t seen the film yet, because we so rarely go to the movies, but I definitely will see it. And I will love it.

 

A Family’s Fences

The years pile up, link
together the wants
and defeats
of one and two people,
or three, who think
that being family
is all you need to love.

The roof is leaking,
walls fall off slowly,
and the fence
cannot build itself.
A family cuts its own ties
with its bare teeth.
All leave the yard bleeding.

You cannot forget this:
after all the reaching
toward a television harmony,
death will rush up
and take you on the left.
No fence will be so honest,
then, as your memory,

dressed in blue, waving to you.

 

This poem appears in my poetry collection entitled Happenings, Heartbeats, and Mental Breakdowns, published in 2015. It’s available in print through Amazon, and in ebook through the other major vendors as well. It’s reasonably-priced, and it’s a pretty good collection (she said modestly). Click here to find it at your preferred vendor.

The last time I tried to do NaNoWriMo …

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… I basically crashed and burned. It was last year, November 2015. I started out fairly well, as far as my word count and trying to do some amount of writing every day. I started writing the second book in what I’m hoping will be a three-book series. I had been trying to write the first book in said series from late March through October, with sidesteps to put together and publish (at least in ebook format) my collection of poems, and the kind of delays that one encounters when one also has a family and a full-time job. To do National Novel Writing Month “correctly,” the writer can do all kinds of planning before November, but no actual writing until November 1. So, I put aside my work-in-progress and started writing the follow-up. At the end of November 2015, I had two incomplete novels instead of only one!

What happened last year was basically the same thing that happens to me every November: I had several days when I was seriously depressed. Don’t get me wrong: depression can hit me any day or week of the year, in any kind of weather, with no regard for whatever else I might have had planned. But for many years, perhaps as far back as my teenage years, November has been my most difficult month.

The following paragraphs are what I posted on Facebook (where I’d also been posting updates about my NaNoWriMo efforts) on November 22, 2015.

If you don’t like to think about depression, just skip this one.

I had planned to go to a write-in yesterday afternoon at the library, to try to add a few thousand more words to my November work-in-progress (for National Novel Writing Month). A lot of the morning and early afternoon, I was roped into trying to fix Ryan’s laptop — which had frozen Friday night, but had also just been returned to us Thursday before last with a brand new hard drive. Seriously, EIGHT DAYS after getting it back, it has some DIFFERENT but still MAJOR problem that makes it unusable??? And I don’t know a lot about fixing computers, and no matter what I tried it didn’t work.

A little before 2pm, instead of getting in the shower, I got into bed. (I was still in my pajamas.) Before long, I was crying. I cried off and on for the rest of the afternoon and evening. I got a headache that wouldn’t quit, and my eyes were sore. Much like last Sunday, not only was I too depressed to write, I was too depressed to read. I watched some Hallmark Channel in between bouts of crying. Later, the four of us watched an episode of The Middle, but I quickly started to feel sick. I felt sweat all over me — my arms were resting on the table, and the table was noticeably DAMP under my arms, it was wild. I tried hard not to vomit, but it didn’t work. I’ve continued to be intermittently nauseated since then, but only threw up the one time, thank God.

So, the headache. It’s only the last couple hours that it seems to be gone. The headache and my busy crazy mind kept me up most of the night. I didn’t go to sleep until between 10 and 11, but I was awake again by 1230am, and slept little from then until 630 or 7am. I ate a little, drank some water, took Tylenol for my headache, and read this old novel I had read as a teenager and just recently figured out the title and author again. I couldn’t sleep, but at least I could read.

I recently started reading the new book by Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy: a Funny Book about Horrible Things. I won’t finish it soon: it is due back to the library today, but since I am *still* in my pajamas, it might be slightly overdue. Anyway, Lawson is mostly very funny, but a lot of the book (based on my understanding of it, and the little I read) is about her experiences with depression and other mental illnesses. There’s one sentence in the Author’s Note that particularly struck me: “Imagine having a disease so overwhelming that your mind causes you to want to murder yourself.”

If you want to read that last sentence again, please feel free.

And yet, so many of us also feel ashamed, a sense of personal weakness and failure, and hopelessness. I’m not supposed to be writing any of this, right? I’m not supposed to admit that I feel like garbage sometimes, that 30 years after I spent a couple of months in a psychiatric hospital, I *still* think sometimes about hurting myself, and wonder if I have the strength to go on.

And November is THE WORST. The idea that I would try to write a novel during November, when really, any day that I shower and get out of the house should count as a damn victory in my personal battle of life, is basically a fantasy goal that is doomed to fail. (The only time I didn’t have episodes of Seasonal Affective Disorder during November was when I lived in Arizona. I might win NaNoWriMo someday if I live in AZ again.) I’ve accepted that, and I don’t plan to write today. I will keep writing, but not to that November deadline. I just can’t deal.

Ryan’s laptop. I don’t know. It ain’t happening today.

Today. Today, Jeff and I have been married for 18 years. We were supposed to have some kid-free time today, to probably go out to dinner, maybe watch a movie. Did I mention that I’m writing this in bed, and that I haven’t showered all weekend?!? Jeff has been so helpful and sympathetic since my mood went south yesterday. I know I’m not easy to live with a lot of the time, and yet he keeps me around. He’s also encouraged the boys to behave themselves, and not add to my stress level, and they’ve mostly complied. For these things, I am thankful.

I hope your weekend has been better than mine. I hope tomorrow will be better for me, too. I hope I can sleep tonight. I’m looking forward to the long Thanksgiving weekend … and soon after that, to the end of another November.

Happy holiday week. May you all have reasons to smile. If you can’t think of any, then you might want to read some Jenny Lawson.

[And now, back to the present day, when I remember that my blog doesn’t have enough photos. Here’s the profile picture that accompanies that Facebook post. It is me with my late cat Mia, taken an incredibly long time ago, but even though Mia’s been gone over two years now, I still haven’t wanted to change my FB photo.]

marie-and-mia

This year, my only goal for NaNoWriMo is to finish a mostly coherent draft of that ever-changing first novel. I’m only counting my “new” words, but instead of 50K, I only need to write 15-20K. I’m currently at 6578, and I’m off from work tomorrow, and the marathon write-in is the day after that. Tomorrow, I’m going to get my existing scenes in order, and make a short list/outline of the scenes I need to write to finish a solid draft.

But also, you might be wondering, how is my mood? It seems strange to say, but … and I don’t want to say it too loud … it’s not too bad. Actually, for November, it’s been pretty great — knock on wood! The first couple days of the month were kind of blue, but other than that, it’s been okay. (I will not talk about the election, and other signs that the apocalypse might be coming sooner than we thought. Sometimes, having an entertaining fictional world as a retreat is a real blessing!) I’m not sure why it’s been easier this year — though probably our above-average temperatures have played some part in it — but mostly I want to enjoy it, and be as productive as my mood lets me be.

Onward, and maybe upward!

Help me support a worthy cause

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[TL;DR: I’m donating a portion of the sales of my poetry book, from now through the end of the year, to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. There’s more info about them, and links, in the post below. My ebook is only 99 cents, a small amount for most people, and the more copies I sell, the more money I can donate! Whether you get ebooks from Amazon, Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or Smashwords, just click here, and then choose the link to your preferred vendor from that page. Thank you!]

Part of the description for my poetry collection (titled, appropriately enough, Happenings, Heartbeats, and Mental Breakdowns) states that the book might bring comfort to people who have suffered from depression or another mental illness. This is because I’ve struggled with depression since I was about ten years old, and I’ve been in counseling off and on since I was twelve. A lot of my poems have dark undertones, and explore the shadowy places that will be familiar to many people who have battled depression. Some of them include signs of hope and light, but there are a couple that really don’t. Still, I remember that quote from the movie Shadowlands: “We read to know we are not alone.” One takeaway from even my darkest poems is this: if you’ve ever felt hopeless, if you’ve experienced despair, if you’ve lost someone you loved and thought the grief would swallow you whole, You Are Not Alone. I have been where you are, and there are many others who have been there, too, and might be there today.

The second takeaway: I am still here. Some days I want to give up, and other days, I can’t even GET up. But a little time passes, I gather as much strength as I can (and I probably grab some caffeine and/or chocolate), and I face another day. I am alive, I am employed, I have a family, and I’m still (albeit intermittently) pursuing my goal of becoming a better writer.

It’s true that novels generally sell better than short stories. I don’t have numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if story collections, in turn, sell better than poetry. Yet I can’t help thinking, my poetry collection is pretty good, and there are potential readers out there who would enjoy the book, and see themselves reflected in some of the poems. And a few days ago, I had this idea: instead of only promoting my book, I could “pay it forward.”

Happenings new ebook blue (1)

From now through the end of this year, I’ll donate 25% of the net sales of my poetry book to a non-profit organization that helps people who have depression or a similar mental illness. I am leaning toward the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, which I had heard of, but I honestly didn’t know anything about them. When I started looking at their website, the thing that impressed me first was reading this statement on their “About DBSA” page, in the section about what makes them different from other mental health-related non-profits:

Peer-led: More than half of the DBSA staff and board members live with a mood disorder and all DBSA support groups are facilitated by peers
And I thought, Wait a second … a lot of the people running the organization and employed there are fighting the same battles as the people seeking help. Hmmm. As I continued clicking around, I found a Media Kit, and an information sheet about the current president of DBSA, Allen Doederlein. He is introduced with this:
Allen Doederlein has been president of DBSA since 2011, an executive with the organization since 2009. Doederlein first experienced a mood disorder at age 17, the third generation of his family to do so.

My father told me that he had his own “nervous breakdowns” at ages thirteen and seventeen. He was diagnosed as manic-depressive (i.e. bipolar) during or soon after that second breakdown, circa 1959. He had some number of shock treatments during that time period, long before I was born. When I was a teenager myself, already struggling with depression, it sometimes felt like I had two different fathers: my “regular” dad (to be clear, I wouldn’t really call him “normal” even then), and my “manic” dad. It wasn’t just his behavior that changed, or the fact that he wouldn’t stop talking; even his voice was different. Anyway, supporting an organization that focuses on depression and bipolar disorder would honor my dad’s memory, and help others with the same condition, as well as people with depression.

The other thing that pointed me toward DBSA is their high ratings on Charity Navigator (four out of four stars, overall score of 93.83 out of 100) and on GuideStar, which identifies DBSA as a “Platinum-level” organization. These rankings have convinced me that not only is this a legitimate non-profit organization, but it’s committed to doing good, to helping people who desperately need it. They stress the importance of the “lived experience” of people living with mood disorders, as well as a commitment to helping the family members of people battling these illnesses.

My book is very reasonably priced, and from now until the end of the year, I’ll give 25% of my net profits to a worthy non-profit — probably DBSA. (You know, unless there’s some terrible news about them between now and the end of the year, courtesy of WikiLeaks or an old Access Hollywood recording … please Lord, don’t let anything like that happen!) With this one link, you’ll find a landing page to choose your preferred ebook vendor, and click through to buy Happenings, Heartbeats, and Mental Breakdowns. If you want a print version, that’s only available through Amazon — again, same link. If you want to buy a signed copy directly from me, please email me at lightedlakepress (at) gmail (dot) com to find out more!

My poetry book is available through Overdrive!

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For many devoted readers of ebooks, the only thing better than being able to purchase an ebook and download it to their device almost instantaneously, is being able to borrow an ebook from their local library, for free, and download it immediately to their device. Books in any format can be expensive, and sometimes it’s harder to justify buying an ebook because you don’t have an actual physical thing. (Or maybe that’s my age talking. And also, who am I kidding? Pretty much everything is expensive. Life is expensive, dammit.)

As a lifelong fan of libraries, and as a librarian, it was always my goal to have my book available to library users. I’m thrilled to tell you that the ebook of my poetry collection, Happenings, Heartbeats, and Mental Breakdowns, is now available to libraries through Overdrive! You can see more information right here.

If your local library provides access to ebooks using Overdrive, please consider letting them know about my book and asking if they’ll purchase it for the library’s ebook collection. I think it only costs them a few dollars. (Even better for you, Dear Reader, is that it costs you nothing!) Thank you very much!

As always, happy reading!

Happenings new ebook blue (1)

 

In which I count the ways I love the Book Fight! podcast

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Okay, I admit, I’m not really “counting.” This is just a list of reasons, in no particular order, that Book Fight! is my favorite podcast.

It’s about books, reading, writing, and other book-adjacent topics. But, its hosts are comfortable following all kinds of tangents to almost anywhere. (This second part is not for everyone, but I myself am totally on board with the tangents.)

Speaking of the hosts, their names are Mike Ingram and Tom McAllister. The first thing I love about them, as hosts, is that while they have occasional guests, there are never guest hosts. The only episodes that featured only Tom or only Mike were the AWP bonus episodes, the one year that Tom went to the AWP Conference and Mike stayed back in Philadelphia. I appreciate that level of commitment, where they’ll sometimes record two or three episodes in advance if one of them is going to be out of town, so listeners will always have both of them on the show.

The whole atmosphere of the show is very relaxed. The two guys have been friends for at least ten years, I think, having met when they both attended the highly-respected Iowa Writers’ Workshop. They usually record in Tom’s basement (aka “the Book Fight! Basement”), and often drink beer while they record. They swear a lot, so if you’re offended by mature language, this show is NOT for you. In many episodes, one of them will make a questionable comment, followed by the statement, “We’ll probably just cut that,” or, “Might want to edit that out.” I have no idea how often they actually DO edit things out, but considering the amount of stuff they say they’ll cut but never do, I’m guessing that almost all of it stays in. So they say a lot of goofy or potentially offensive things, but they’re very self-aware and often poke fun at themselves as well as one another.

Other common occurrences to listen for:

The skillful transition from one segment or topic to another, which is immediately made less impressive because they still can’t resist calling attention to what a good transition it was;

The mispronunciation of many words and names, which they usually apologize for and try to correct, but even after that they might still get it wrong, but you forgive them because it’s endearing and you know they don’t mean any harm — except maybe with the name Coetzee because that was sort of a running gag of its own;

Mentions of their ongoing “feud” with Hobart magazine (which I’m pretty sure is a joke), and their strong dislike for Narrative magazine (which is definitely not a joke);

Tom’s tendency in the earlier episodes to say he was “on the Tweeters” when he talked about Twitter;

Reminders that Mike is from The South, even though he has no southern accent at all;

All the times that Tom uses the words “rage” or “enraged,” which unfortunately DOES paint him as “the Angry One” even though he dislikes that moniker;

All the times that Mike uses the word “delightful,” sometimes paired with a hearty and genuine laugh, which unfortunately adds to the perception that Tom is “the Angry One”;

Mentions of Tom’s wife, who sounds like a glorious and kind person who has the patience of a saint;

Mike talking about his bad memory, and corresponding evidence to support that statement — for example, the fact that they’ve done a ton of episodes, and Mike is the one who edits them, but he usually forgets if it’s the rating or recommendation that comes first, as well as who is supposed to rate first;

and last but certainly not least, mentions of Matthew Quick, aka “Q,” and references to his novel The Silver Linings Playbook (including the extra-long special episode where Mike and Tom discussed and dissected the book, and explored Tom’s frustration with the book’s success).

 

The thing that really hooked me on Book Fight! was the way it made me laugh — specifically, this exchange from the episode Writers Ask: Take This Job and Shove It:

T: This question is from Mike P. — not you, Mike P.

M: I wonder if “P” stands for “Pterodactyl.”

T: (laughs) Mike Pterodactyl. He’s the last of his kind.

M: Do you think that, if you have a name where the first letter is silent, do you still abbreviate it as that letter?

T: Like Mike Pt., or would it be Mike T.?

M: So if you knew a guy named Mike Pterodactyl —

T: (laughing)

M: — and somebody said like, “Hey, Mike P.!” I feel like you might be like, “Wait, wait, who are they talking about?”

T: Mike Pterodactyl. Ah —

M: Although I guess if your last name was Pterodactyl, people would probably just not shorten it, cuz that’s an awesome last name.

T: It sounds like a gumshoe’s name: Detective Mike Pterodactyl, swooping in.

M: (Laughs.) Sorry to derail the question. Sorry, Mike.

T: No, that’s actually, he didn’t ask a question, it just says “From Mike P.” Do with it what you will.

M: Just talk about my name.

T: No, Mike P. has kind of a sad question, actually. Prepare yourself.

(Mike P. recently lost his job as an adjunct teacher at “Giant State University.”)

T: So there was a school at a Giant where there was a creative writing class taught by a pterodactyl … this sounds amazing.

(Tom and Mike go on to discuss the cons of being an adjunct in academia instead of a regular member of the teaching staff.)

T: With no job security, no insurance … the fact that you can lose your job two days before the semester [starts], like the pterodactyl did.

What starts as an amusing, off-the-cuff comment from Mike, is then woven into a more serious conversation about the difficulties of adjunct positions in universities. When I first heard this episode, I was one of those people who still couldn’t tell which voice was Mike and which was Tom, but it didn’t matter: once I’d been introduced to Mike Pterodactyl, I was all in on Book Fight!

In my opinion, one of the funniest episodes ever is Episode 50, the 2013 Christmas Spectacular, where they discuss a slightly Christmas-themed romance novella by Lori Foster, and the book The Christmas Wedding by James Patterson and Some Other Guy. (The holiday episodes always feature two books.) I’m not sure how many times I’ve listened to it, but there are parts of it that still make me laugh out loud. “That’s just Gabby!” “She’s a menace!” I also love the “sex montage” in the romance novella, where according to Mike and Tom, there’s a sort of “camera” that pans from one bedroom to the next, where we get bits of conversation, before each of the couples start having sex. (Truthfully, any time the guys tackle a romance novel, the results are delightful.)

A few of my other favorites:

Spring of Spite: Richard Yates, “Oh Joseph, I’m So Tired” — The discussion of the story is solid, and Mike and Tom both enjoyed reading it, but my favorite part of the episode is the story Mike found on Reddit, about the guy with all the pies. Priceless!

Episode 95: Elissa Washuta, “Consumption” — This episode might hold the record for Greatest Number of Minutes Into the Episode Before the Book/Essay/Story is Finally Introduced. Tom has a novel coming out in the not-too-distant-future-we-hope, and a couple days before they recorded this episode, his publisher told him to come up with a different title for the book. The guys feel bad about short-changing the essay, which they both liked, but the Epic Title Discussion just couldn’t be contained.

Writers Ask: Here Comes Your 19th Nervous Breakdown — This is another one I’ve listened to so many times I’ve lost count. Mike is feeling down in the dumps, as the novel he’s been writing for a significant amount of time just isn’t coming together. Even though he has reservations about National Novel Writing Month (though Tom has a stronger dislike for it, as documented in the Writers Ask episode NaNoWriMoNoNo), Mike is considering whether he should actually participate in it, to give himself time and distance from his troublesome writing project, and force him to think about something completely different. The trip into the NaNoWriMo forums is hysterical, resulting in an idea for a book called “Jerk Ghost,” as well as questions like, “Do you think all the characters are just named after third-rate sodas?” and, “Are the answers that this person is insane and they’re experiencing a psychotic break?” This ep also shows a less angry side of Tom, who says at one point, “I’m trying to comfort you here!” Good job, Tom!

Actually, all of the episodes that feature NaNoWriMo provide some laughs, so just go to bookfightpod.com and search for “nanowrimo” to track them down. (The 2015 episodes are slightly less funny because Tom’s feelings about the enterprise have mellowed, but they still include wacky questions from the forums.)

Fall of Failure #8: Brian Oliu and the Psychology of Failure — Sometimes, the guys do tackle bigger subjects and have substantive, thought-provoking conversations. Their exploration here of the “psychology of failure” is a great example.

One last point that is minor for some people, but I feel it needs to be said: the file size for each episode is ALWAYS REASONABLE. There are times when I want to download an episode of some other podcast, and it’s like 80 or even 100 MB for maybe an hour-long show, or even less than that. If you see an episode of Book Fight! that tips 40 MB, you can be sure you’re getting over an hour of Mike and Tom doing their thing.

In the weeks since I decided to write a blog post documenting my endless affection for Book Fight!, I’ve realized there’s one thing that’s still missing from my life that would definitely have come in handy: an episode index! Their website is great, and the search function works, but if I were independently wealthy and had a chunk of time to devote to a project with limited real-world value that would bring me many hours of contentment and laughter, I would totally start compiling that index.

But for now, this is one affectionately counted round in the books.

(Ready? Click one of the links above, buckle up, and listen to the award-winning Book Fight! podcast!)

Writing, or reading? Can I do both, maybe?

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Here’s a three-minute overview of my past nine months of writing (or trying to write) fiction — specifically, a romance novel. First, start with the germ of an idea, and “pants” through several chapters. Realize there isn’t enough conflict, change some things, and start over with basically the same characters but different circumstances. Work on that in fits and starts through spring and summer, deepening the conflicts and doing more planning and plotting, but staying flexible enough to follow inspiration when it sidesteps the original ideas. As November approaches, resolve to do NaNoWriMo, starting fresh on what will eventually be book two of this series. Manage to battle back against the usual November depression, and stagger through the regular family/work/life responsibilities, and write over 25,000 words on this second book, while still watching a decent number of holiday movies on Hallmark Channel (for which I am usually a huge sucker), and preparing to participate in the local author fair by finishing the print copy of my poetry book and ordering 35 copies. Realize during NaNoWriMo that it’s almost impossible for me to write love scenes (i.e. sex scenes) without feeling like a goofball, and that I also can’t write them with any amount of speed. So, the need to write intimate, sexy scenes in my romance novel definitely lowered my final word count. Idea number three: write a much shorter piece, unrelated to the two novels, that’s meant to be erotica, to see if I can actually do it (har har) and get past the sense that I’m a total dweeb and have no business writing sexy stuff.

And that’s pretty much where I’m at. Why do I feel like I need to include sex scenes in the novels when I find them so difficult to write? Because it’s true that romance sells, and fairly clean romance can also sell really well, but I have a sense (and I have no idea if it’s true, I could be completely wrong) that readers of steamier fare are more likely to take a chance on an unknown author, if the book cover and description hook them, and if the price is low. So, I have two romance novels that are somewhere around halfway done (the final books should be between 50K and 60K words), and a shorter story that’s currently over 8,000 words. Sometimes, the scenes and dialogue come easily, and other times, I can barely get anything out. Today, I went back to the first book, and after skimming through the last section I had written, and allowing myself to be distracted by Spotify as I tried to find music to suit my writing mood, I managed to add 208 words to that first novel, before deciding to write a new blog post, taking stock of my writing status. (I was also interrupted by my older son, who asked for help with questions about The Scarlet Letter. He is in tenth grade, and I haven’t read The Scarlet Letter since I was in tenth grade, so I had to review the chapter in order to help him out because I only remember the basics about the main characters, and very few details about the plot. Anyway, interruption added to distraction.)

The other thing that’s got me sidetracked from writing, is that I desperately wish I were reading more. I bought three new romance novels last week at a used book store, then yesterday, I bought three from the Chandler Booktique at TSCPL, then checked out four more! I’m currently reading a library book, and there are two others (one novel, one story anthology) that I’ve already renewed once but haven’t started reading. (I’ve also received a handful of mostly-older Harlequins through Bookmooch. I’m desperately trying to get my hands on the small batch of romances I read as a teen that have stayed in my mind all these years.) I would love to take a day, or even a weekend, and really lose myself in these books. If I pick one up and read a few chapters, and find that I haven’t lost myself, then maybe I could just put that one aside as a DNF (did not finish) and move along to something that fills me with happy. (I also have a few LibraryThing Early Reviewers books to read, the third just arriving this past week. Two are nonfiction, and the newest one is a novel that’s NOT romance. And I’ve been reading romance and erotica almost exclusively, along with books about writing and self-publishing, because that’s been my focus all these months.)

 

Library books on the left, newly acquired books on the right. (Plus a bit of bookcase in the back. Heaven help me.)

Library books on the left, newly acquired books on the right. (Plus a bit of a bookcase in the back of the picture. Heaven help me.)

Could I take one week to not think about writing, but just read as much as I can, get a few of the library books out of the way — either read and enjoyed, or started and rejected without guilt — and then hopefully jump back into working on that first romance novel with a fresh perspective, and without the distraction of all the library books I want to read? Can I just forgive myself for doing what I most want to do for a little while, if that thing is reading?

But then there’s that voice that says I need to keep writing, because I started this tiny publishing company dammit, and I need to actually get to the end of one of these projects — at least one, for crying out loud, because I can’t actually publish anything until it’s complete — then make a first pass at editing to clean up plot detours that ended up going a different way, and anything else that’s not coherent, so it’s good enough to send to an editor. I know I need to treat my business like a business, if I’m ever going to have a prayer of growing it.

Project for holiday downtime: maybe move this blog to WordPress?

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Since I started a (very very small) publishing company a few months ago, published my book of poetry, and have been working on writing novels (two in progress, zero finished so far), and have been learning more about self-publishing, I really need to reinvigorate this blog. I cleaned up a few things a couple months ago, but there’s still a lot to do, and I’m thinking it’s about time I switched from Blogger to WordPress. The guys who do The Self-Publishing Podcast (which I discovered when I found their book, Write. Publish. Repeat, at the library) have talked a bit about “digital sharecropping,” I think they called it, and the importance of having your own space on the internet. As long as I’m on Blogger, I’m basically at the mercy of Google. Like millions of other people, I love many things about Google, but the idea of controlling my own space is very appealing. My business, and my writing career, is still in its fledgling state, and will be for some months to come (but not years — please, Lord, let it be months and not years!), but I want it to grow and succeed. Getting a “real” web host, making the blog a bit more “professional,” and posting more often — even if it’s only short updates like this one — are reasonable steps I can take, and should take, toward gradually growing my business.

All that said, if you try to visit this blog again in the next few weeks and it’s messed up or temporarily missing, I’m probably trying to move it to a new host and a new template and running into technical difficulties … because that’s usually what I do. Wish me luck.
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