If I could have one superpower … (plus bookcase photos)

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Many years ago, probably after a library sale or a buying spree at a used book store, I remember joking to a friend, “I’m buying books now to read in my retirement.”

Ha ha ha. Little did I know!

(Click each photo to zoom in.)

For a long time, I’ve grouped all novels and single-author volumes of poetry, essays, or stories in a big category I call “Imaginative Literature,” arranged by author’s year of birth. This is Imaginative Literature bookcase 1. There are a handful of books on the top that are just books about books, overflow from “General Non-fiction.” The rest of the bookcase is Homer through Virginia Woolf.

There are probably thousands of quotes and memes that diehard book lovers can relate to, including:
So many books, so little time.
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges
It’s not hoarding if it’s books.
“Too many books”? I think what you mean is “not enough bookshelves.”
You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy books. And that’s kind of the same thing.
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” – Stephen King
There is no such thing as too many books.

This is Imaginative Lit bookcase 2, which holds Franz Kafka to Muriel Spark. While Imaginative Lit bookcase 1 is in the basement (in the “yellow room”), numbers 2 through 7 are along the walls of the living/dining room. This bookcase includes all my Daphne du Maurier, as well as the first title of which I own two copies: Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt.

As a lifelong reader and bibliophile, I agree with all of those sentiments. But it’s also true that physical books take up space, and those of us who acquire books more quickly than we can read them might sometimes ask ourselves, “Do I have too many books?” If we own more books (particularly unread books) than we can ever read in our lifetime, it’s a reasonable question. If books are meant to be read, shouldn’t we stop buying books we haven’t read, and try to weed out some of the ones we’re unlikely to read in, say, the next couple of years?

Imaginative Literature bookcase 3 starts with the second half of my Muriel Spark books and ends with most of my William Goldman books. Apologies for the bright glare on the John Ashbery titles; my phone doesn’t have a superior camera and I am not a great photographer.

When I start to wonder if I have too many books–especially if I’m trying to find space for new purchases on already-crowded shelves–I’m always gripped by the same question: how do I choose? How do I decide which books I should give away?

Imaginative Lit bookcase 4 is the shortest one, only two shelves, but it holds a few favorites. It starts with the last few William Goldman and ends with Larry McMurtry, but also contains all my Sylvia Plath and Mary Oliver books. I shelve all of an author’s prose and poetry together, ideally in the order published or written though I’m not strict on that. I also include biographies of an author and criticism of their work alongside their books–again, Plath is the prime example.

It’s usually easier for me to give away books I’ve already read–because I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped, because there’s a 98% chance I can get it from the library if I want to read it again, because I could order a used copy online for 50 cents, or because it’s in the public domain so I can get the ebook for free. If it’s a book I haven’t read, the decision becomes so much more difficult, because what if it’s a fabulous book?!?!?

Bookcase 5 has five shelves full of great stuff. It starts with Marge Piercy and ends with the first batch of Victoria Thompson. It contains all my Susan Fromberg Schaeffer novels, Louise Glück poetry collections, Lydia Davis, and Elena Ferrante. It’s also the first time where a prolific author has overflowed my romance shelves for inclusion in Imaginative Lit: Mary Balogh.

I had The Book Thief by Markus Zusak on my shelves for a couple of years, unread, before downloading the audiobook through the public library and finally reading it that way. Even though the novel included a book-related storyline (obviously, it’s right there in the title), that still wasn’t a guarantee that I’d like it. But when I listened to the audiobook, I fell completely in love with it. Although I hadn’t read the print book first, I was thrilled to know it was already on my shelves, because otherwise, I’d be adding this new favorite to my collection ASAP.

Imaginative Lit bookcase 6. I wish the photo were clearer. This starts with the second half of Victoria Thompson and ends with Paul Harding. Another romance author is on the bottom shelf: Victoria Alexander. This bookcase has the most duplicate copies of favorites: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, Legacy by Susan Kay, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and the second and third books of The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin. After taking this photo, I found a second hardcover of The Passage and instantly grabbed it although it’s over 700 pages. Yes, I’m an addict.

While I was shifting some of my books around a couple months ago–probably trying to find space for some new acquisitions, and dismissing the little voice in my head that suggested maybe I do have too many books and it’s time to get rid of a handful or two–I decided what kind of superpower I would want if I ever had that choice.

I want to have the power to pick up a book and to know, simply by touching it, if it’s a book I would love. Not merely like or enjoy, but completely love.

Finally, Imaginative Lit 7, which starts with Noah Hawley and basically ends with Mira Gonzalez. However, I decided recently to put books at the end where I wasn’t sure of the author’s birth year, as well as a couple of books by Christina Lauren, two people writing under one name. This little batch is shelved by approximate birth year based on my best guesses. Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical romances are all excellent, and also overflowed the romance shelves. So many great authors just on the top shelf: Jhumpa Lahiri, Michele Young-Stone, Myla Goldberg, and Steve Toltz. An embarrassment of riches!

It wouldn’t be like the cliched judging a book by its cover, which most of us already do to some extent, but would require me to actually hold the book. This superpower would be no help if I were trying to decide which ebook to read next from my digital collection, or searching through ebooks in the Kobo store or one of the library apps. It’s possible (and probably easy, even) to have more ebooks than you’ll ever read, but at least they don’t take up space in your home or get stained or dusty, or cause family and friends who aren’t readers to ask judgy questions about why you need so many books, whether you’ve read them all, if you think there’s any way in hell you’ll actually read them all, or why you don’t take up some other pastime that would enable you to become more physically fit.

As soon as I began collecting romances as a separate category from the “Imaginative Lit” that I’d been reading & buying for decades–and seeing how extensive some of these authors’ backlists are–I decided not to put them in the same order as my other books. To keep it simple, titles on my Romance Bookshelves are in alphabetical order by authors’ names. This particular bookcase holds novels by some of my favorite authors, so they run from Victoria Alexander to Theresa Romain. The top shelf is too short for books so I’ve got some CDs & audiobooks on it–including The Book Thief.

I’ve clearly been buying more books than I have time to read for decades, but my book-buying habits probably accelerated after I became a more devoted romance reader and started writing romance–or at least trying to write romance, though my first romance novel remains a not-quite-completed digital file. Many romance fans are truly voracious readers, and many of them enjoy other genres in addition to romance, depending upon their particular tastes and preferences. Romance readers know what they like, and when they find it–a series, an author, a sub-genre, or even a trope–they want even more of it. This is a great thing for authors.

This is the first of my two “general” romance bookcases. It starts with a handful of trade-size paperbacks shelved as a horizontal pile on the top left, then runs from “A” authors to “L” authors. Given that most romance novels are published as mass market paperbacks, the shelves on these two bookcases are the perfect size for this collection.

In my case, there are two specific aspects of my romance fandom that have led to my overflowing romance shelves. First, I’ve always tended to be a completist book collector: when I read an awesome book by a new-to-me author, I proceed to search out (and often purchase, though usually secondhand) a bunch of other works by the same author. I own at least 15 books by Daphne du Maurier, acquired over about three decades since I first read My Cousin Rachel and fell in love with du Maurier’s writing. (There are also two of her novels which I read that weren’t “keepers” and I eventually gave them away.) Some of these romance authors are very prolific, and my completist tendency runs up against the finite amount of space on my bookshelves. I don’t know how many books Mary Balogh has published, but I’ve read (or listened to) nine of them. I actually own physical copies of thirty-eight Balogh books–and I did have more but I’ve weeded out four other titles in the last couple of months. Not every book is a keeper, and different people will have different favorites, but overall, she’s super-good and her books are quality historical romances.

The second romance bookcase currently holds the rest of the “L” authors through the “W” authors. Did I mention that these two bookcases are located in my closet? That’s why you can see part of a bathrobe and the bottom inch or two of a few shirts. Although a few authors have migrated to the Imaginative Lit shelves in the living room, the original plan was to keep all the romance novels semi-hidden in my bedroom–or at least the mass market paperbacks–but the pull of books is often stronger than my ability to resist.

The second reason why I think reading romance kicked my book-buying up a couple of notches hearkens back to what I said earlier about falling in love with books. In this case, if it’s a well-written novel and the story and tropes hit a reader’s sweet spot, then you’re falling in love with a book that’s all about falling in love. In the same way that meeting someone new or going on the first few dates with someone you like can turn your days upside down and you can’t wait until the next time you see them, great romance novels can give you a similar kind of rush. I mean, any good story can provide that kind of excitement, but the conventions and mechanics of the romance genre specifically target the reader’s emotions. When a romance reader says, “This book gave me all the feels!” then you know it hit the mark. If I read a book’s description and it makes me want to immediately meet the characters, jump into their story, and find out how they’ll overcome the obstacles between them, it’s probably going onto my wishlist, if not right into my shopping cart.

This cool trapezoidal-type bookcase holds my “general non-fiction” books. It was built by my brother-in-law when he was in college. It actually has five shelves, but I managed to empty the bottom shelf so I left that one out of the photo. The books are approximately in Dewey Decimal order; you can see a few books are laying sideways and not properly shelved. A handful of the lowest-Dewey-numbered books–all of them about books and reading–were pulled from here and moved to Imaginative Lit bookcase 1 for space reasons. Both bookcases are in “the yellow room” in the basement.

The number of books in the collection “Your Library” in my LibraryThing account (at this moment, but subject to change when I add the two books I just bought at the TSCPL Booktique) is 1382. The number of books in that collection that are tagged “novel” is 853–nearly 62% of the total books I own. Another 178 are tagged “poetry,” almost 13% of the total. I have a collection I call “General Non-fiction,” a subset of “Your Library” that includes a bit of philosophy and religion, some education and social sciences, books about dealing with depression, and a smattering of history. It also contains 30 books with the tag “books and reading,” and about a dozen more with the tag “literary criticism.” Even when the collection doesn’t include fiction and literature, there’s a chunk of it that’s about literary works, books, and/or reading.

This is the “everything else” bookcase. Books about writing are on the top shelf, in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Memoirs round out the third shelf down, also shelved by author name. The rest of shelves two and three are primarily anthologies, in alpha order by title, and a smattering of literary magazines. The bottom shelf has a small section of books written by local authors, and finally, “other stuff.”

The final bookcase in the collection “Your library” (i.e. my library) is basically a smorgasbord, the everything-else-bookcase. This is where I keep books about writing, anthologies, a few writing-related reference works (like a book about copyright), a section of memoirs, books by local authors, and a group of literary journals I haven’t been able to part with, mainly The Paris Review and Poetry. There are also a handful of children’s books in the mix on the bottom shelf. Like every bookcase in the house, this one has books I haven’t read that still interest me, books I really don’t need to keep, and books that I adore and want to have with me always. If only I had that superpower, I could pick up each of the unread books and simply know whether I can give it away with no regrets or if it will be a new favorite.

Or maybe I should consider my overflowing bookshelves (clearly a “first-world problem” that I’m happy and lucky to have) from another perspective, and wish for “superpowers” I could apply more broadly: making decisions more quickly instead of agonizing over so many of them (including “Should I keep this book or give it away?”), and finding the ability to finish more of the projects I start. Hmmm…can I trade my personality and general state of being for an improved model???

Before and after: My DIY pandemic haircut

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One of the things I missed in 2020 was being able to get a haircut with some regularity. Checking my calendar, it’s possible I didn’t get any haircuts in 2020, as the last one I see is in November 2019. Throughout my adult life, there have been dozens of times when I didn’t make an appointment as promptly as I should have, and had to trim my own bangs. Continuing to trim them every couple of months during 2020 was familiar, no big deal. It was all the other hair growing down past my shoulders that bothered me as the year wore on–more time to wash it, more time to comb it, more of it dropping into the sink and onto the floor, and more of it flying in my face when I ventured outside on a windy day.

2021 was a new year, and COVID-19 vaccines were on the horizon. Maybe in the second half of 2021, we might be able to return to some level of normal activity–I felt hopeful! But whenever I looked in the mirror, my thick and heavy hair would drag me down, just a bit.

I finally started thinking, How difficult could it be?

Followed by: It wouldn’t need to be perfect. No one will be looking at me that closely, and I barely see anyone outside my family anyway.

Around the end of January, or very early February, I finally chopped it off. It felt wonderful, and so freeing!

 

Picture I took of myself with my hair hanging past my shoulders.

BEFORE: Taken Jan. 17. Can you tell by my expression that I’m sick of my hair?

 

Picture I took of myself after my haircut, with my hair about chin-length.

AFTER: Ahhh… this is MUCH better!

That was at least two and a half months ago, and my hair still feels pretty short. I’m getting my second vaccine shot in two days, so maybe I’ll try to get a haircut in my regular salon in early June (do I dare to hope?!?), at least to get all the jagged parts evened out, and get my bangs trimmed by a professional. Until then, my chop job will be good enough.

The month of May: my COVID-19 story

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Picture of me and Lee with a Christmas tree, December 1974

Me, age 3, and Lee, age 5; December 1974

 

Posted on Facebook, May 1, 2020:

Where to start???

I spent the last part of February and much of March obsessively watching the numbers of positive Covid-19 cases go up, and the number of affected states and counties gradually increasing as well. Once it was clear that community spread had begun, I remember thinking that my brother was sure to get it.

This week, my brother did test positive for Covid-19.

My brother is in Massachusetts. He has a number of serious illnesses, and he’s been in and out of the hospital more frequently in the last couple of years. It wasn’t symptoms of the virus that brought him to the hospital, but one of his other conditions. So far, he’s doing fairly well: he’s being treated for his existing illness and is much improved over when he was admitted on Monday, and his Covid-19 symptoms are mild so far. I talked last night to a nurse who said he’d gotten two units of plasma, since the hospital is part of a trial for that treatment. Unfortunately, I haven’t actually spoken to my brother yet. I hope to rectify that tomorrow, as the weekend frees up my schedule. (That sounds idiotic, since I’ve been working from home, but in a weird way, I feel like I need to be “on task” even more when working from home than I do at the office.)

My brother and I really haven’t been close for a long time. But we’re getting older, our parents are dead, and he’s still my brother. In addition to all his “regular” illnesses, now he’s got Covid-19. And I’m over 1000 miles away and can’t do anything to help him.

 

Posted on Facebook, May 13, 2020:

An update on my brother:

Lee was discharged from the hospital back to the nursing facility last Wednesday, May 6. Yesterday, I got a call from his friend (who is also his health care proxy, because he lived in the same building and I’m halfway across the country), and he told me that Lee was being placed on hospice care.

Yes, hospice.
The too-long, didn’t-read version: I was told today that “his condition is poor” and he’s receiving end-of-life care. It seems certain that it’s not the coronavirus that’s killing him, but one of his prior conditions.
If I go to Mass. to try to see him before he passes (I *would* be allowed a 30-minute visit), and/or to take care of any arrangements before/after he passes, I would need to self-quarantine in Mass. for 14 days.
Should I go to Mass.? Or should I not? But if I don’t go, who will take care of arrangements, stuff at his rooming house, his bank account, whatever else comes up that I can’t think of right now…?
What kind of sister would I be if I don’t go???

More details and red tape below:

I got a phone number, and got transferred to like four different people, and finally talked to a woman who said she couldn’t tell me anything because I wasn’t listed as an approved contact person, HIPAA, etc.
I asked, “Do you have the name of his contact right in front of you?”
“I can’t give that to you,” she said.
(Note, that’s not what I asked her.)
I said, “If I just guess who it is, do you have the name there?” And I didn’t wait for her to answer, I just gave her the name.
She said, “That’s correct.”
So if I wanted information, I had to call my brother’s friend…the one who had called me to give me the number for the hospice service. Grrrrr.

Last night, I talked to a nurse at the facility, who was kind enough to tell me that yes, Lee was switched to hospice care yesterday. She said if I wanted to get added to the official list of people who can get info about my brother, I should call back during business hours today and talk to the social worker.

Finally got a call back from the social worker today, who is the person who told me that “his condition is poor.” She said that I’m not listed as an alternate on Lee’s health care proxy, I’m only listed as a contact person/family member in his record. She did say she would add me as allowed-to-hear-info-about-the-patient for both the facility and the hospice nurse(s), so hopefully, when I call, I can actually find out his status.

The social worker is the one who impressed upon me that I would need to stay in Mass for 14 days after visiting Lee and after being in a Covid facility, going so far as to tell me that if I got on a plane, I could be putting the other fliers at risk. I realize that she didn’t know she was talking to someone who’s had only a few non-family outings in the last eight weeks: two trips to the post office and one to a grocery store.

She wasn’t able to tell me how long it might be before the end; I believe she said, “It could be two weeks, it could be two days, we just don’t know.”

I was also told that Lee’s friend/proxy did visit him today (30 minutes or less). I called him a little while ago to ask his assessment of how dire the situation is, as someone who has known Lee for over 10 years and saw him basically every day until the last couple months. I’m waiting for him to get back to me.

If we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic, I would already be trying to book a flight and get back to Mass as quickly as I could. But we ARE in this ongoing crisis, so I don’t know if I should try to make this trip or not. And beyond all the logistical and financial and quarantine-related issues involved in such a trip (like I thought maybe I could take a bus, which would take over 24 hours BUT I think I’d interact with fewer people than if I went with air travel–and where would I be able to self-quarantine in Mass without spending an exorbitant amount of money?)…beyond all that is, WHAT IF I END UP GETTING SICK?!? Then I’d be in Mass, and my husband and sons would be here in Kansas, missing me and afraid for me, and I’d be sick with Covid-19.

But he’s my brother. I wasn’t there when my dad died (which was sudden), and I wasn’t there when my mom died (which we did have time to prepare for), and I feel like if I don’t try to see my brother before he dies–even if he’s unresponsive and has no idea that I was there–I’ll probably regret it.

 

Posted on Facebook, May 14, 2020, at 6:49am:

Short update: I just got a call from a nurse at the nursing home.
“Lee went to heaven this morning.”

We talked for a few minutes and she tried to answer the questions I tried to formulate (on not much sleep). She believes Covid-19 did play a role in his decline, and mentioned blood clots: “The reason I sent him to the hospital was because he was coughing up blood.”

She said she would have hospice call me. I need to figure out what needs to be done, and hopefully have my questions ready before the call. I don’t yet believe that he’s gone.

I did talk to Lee that Sunday he was in the hospital. As we talked about the virus, one thing he said to me:
“I’ll try not to die on ya.”

I wish I had known how sick he really was. I probably *should* have known. Dammit.

 

Posted on Facebook, May 30, 2020:

I guess it’s official. This cropped picture isn’t from the death certificate, but from another document I just received a copy of from Boston Cremation. My brother had some serious health problems, but his immediate cause of death WAS Covid-19.

I’m sure most of my friends & family are already taking this seriously and trying to stay safe. Please keep taking care of yourselves!

Immediate cause of death: COVID-19

 

One more photo for the road: Lee and I are at a local carnival, sitting in a kid-size car, and I clearly have the wild grin because I’m posing for the parent or grandparent taking the picture as we spin by, while Lee appears to be saying something to me and of course I’m listening to him while hamming it up for the camera. This is July 1977; Lee was eight years old, and I was almost six. A lot of my childhood was like this: every time I looked around, I’d see Lee. It’s been seven weeks, but sometimes I still don’t believe he’s actually gone.

I published another book! (though I didn’t write it)

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For most of this year, I have allowed myself to get sidetracked from my writing. After my semi-hopeless-sounding post last January (good heavens, 10 months!), I actually did finish the draft of my novel in February, and felt good about what I produced in the first several weeks of the year. And then, I was completely drained, creatively speaking. I made some efforts–and baby steps of progress–with my revisions in the spring and summer, but with far too many gaps.

And then, in August, at the annual Local Author Workshop at Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, I mentioned during one of the sessions that I’d published a book of poetry, was working on a novel, and hoped I might publish books by other people some day with my still-very-small publishing company. Imagine my surprise, during the lunch break, when I was approached by a gentleman who wanted me to publish his poetry collection. That’s right: my first client!

So, while a fair amount of time I haven’t spent writing, these many months, has been frittered away–and I did admit above that I’d allowed myself to be sidetracked–I’ve also spent a solid amount of time helping another writer to get his work into the world. I’m proud to “introduce” Remnants of a Life, a collection of poetry by Duane L. Herrmann, a Kansas native with the spirit of the Great Plains in much of his writing. At the moment, it is only available in paperback through Amazon (here’s the link!), but I expect to have the ebook done and available for Kindle within the next few days, and hopefully both paperback and ebook through other outlets soon after.

Finally, it is November, which is always difficult for me, but is also National Novel Writing Month. I went to a couple of pre-NaNo events at TSCPL in October, and my goal this month is to go back through the excellent feedback I got from my editors and apply as much of it to my manuscript as I possibly can, and get it into publishable condition. I just need to keep reminding myself: it doesn’t need to be perfect–and in fact, it never can be perfect–it just needs to be good, and done, and published!

I actually started another blog post in June that’s still in the draft folder, and there are a few other topics I really should have written about during this year. It occurred to me that, in the few years since I began writing more “seriously” and thinking of my writing as a potential product, instead of blogging regularly and maintaining “my platform,” I’ve actually written a lot less here than I used to. The draft from last June is a case in point: instead of just spending half an hour “chatting” about whatever’s in my head, I felt like I couldn’t post something short and quick, but had to plan something and take more time with it and make it l-o-n-g. So, it remains in my draft folder, for now.

As always, I will endeavor to be better…whatever that means! But at least I got one more book published, and it feels good. I hope it will be the start of a more productive and creative time for me, and though I don’t like November, NaNoWriMo will give me more motivation to write. Onward!

After reading comments from my editors…

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At the moment, the manuscript of my first novel has seventeen chapters. I’ve submitted most of it to my editing team, three or four chapters at a time, and most of their feedback has been fantastic, and just the right amount of pointing out confusing things or minor errors, and making good suggestions, without making me feel like I need to rewrite whole chapters. They gave me back their comments on chapters 13 through 15, and I reviewed them this evening (after working all day, having supper, and then relaxing a little while longer before getting online). I started writing a reply, babbled some, and then deleted all that and started again.

After writing most of my reply, I wasn’t sure whether to send it to them, because really most of it was stuff I probably should just tell my therapist, except that I took a break from therapy a few months ago–partly because I was in a fairly stable place with my depression, and partly to save some money. Anyway, it wasn’t necessarily stuff to just dump on my editors, who only know me through the emails we’ve exchanged and the draft (so far) of my novel. But it was enough about the tangled relationships between my writing, my life (both past and present), and my mental health (or illness) that I thought, Maybe this is a blog post. Sure; why not?

——————-

I just spent 15+ minutes trying to write you a message, having just read your feedback on chapters 13-15…and then deleted it and I’m trying again.

I remember being in the college library while I was going to Community College of Rhode Island, sitting in a study carrel, probably crying, probably because of Spanish class. (On second thought, it could have been Trigonometry.) And I remember thinking, “I don’t really have to go to a 4-year college”–or maybe something more like, “I won’t ever get to a 4-year college.” It was a dream I had — this fantasy that I could get a degree in English and maybe eventually be a writer — and the main reason I wanted to go to Smith College was because Sylvia Plath had gone to Smith, and I had ALWAYS loved books, loved to read, but it wasn’t until I read Plath’s poetry that… how to explain it? I felt like she had said the kinds of things I wanted to say, that she’d written the way I hoped to write. When I was a teenager, I wrote poems and kept a journal, because I couldn’t NOT write–maybe not even because I had a compulsion for the writing itself, but because I wrote to save my life.

Your feedback on this section was mostly spot-on, with good suggestions–as usual–and even the few things I might not agree with, I can see where you’re coming from. But by the time I finished reading through the comments, I thought, “I am just not good at this fiction thing.” I’ve been thinking for a while that one reason I didn’t try to write fiction for literally decades is because I’m so much in my own head, and my own experience, that it’s hard to imagine being someone else long enough to write believably from that other person’s perspective. If only I’d lived a few decades earlier, I could have been a confessional poet when it was cool.

As the much younger me, in the library at CCRI, felt beaten before she even got to a 4-year college, I feel beaten when it’s time to open my laptop, to get ready to write fiction. “I don’t really have to write a novel…”

—————–    [This is basically where I decided to stop writing my editors and just make it a blog post.]

I ultimately dropped Trig, but I got through the Spanish class. I eventually transferred to Smith, and spent five amazing and overwhelming semesters there, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English. Smith was a dream that became a goal, and I made it there, and I even finished. Writing this novel was a dream that has now become a goal, and it’s still taking me longer than I hoped, and a lot of days it’s hard, and then some days I just can’t even, but every week that goes by gets me a little closer to finishing it. If I can just finish chapter 17 (I can!) and get it edited, then I can look at all the feedback on all the chapters, and make the small and easy changes, and decide how much of the bigger stuff I can stand to revise (including if I’m going to insert one more chapter about three-quarters of the way through the book OMG I really don’t know if I can add a whole new chapter this book is taking forever OMG).

Big sigh.

Tonight was…not quite. But tomorrow, I’ll try again.

A little good (writing) news, amidst the usual chaos

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As the title says, I need to share some good news about my writing. I spent several weeks reading through the draft of my romance novel, making corrections, filling in gaps, and generally tweaking anywhere that tweaking seemed necessary. I decided I was about ready to contact an editor and cross my fingers that they might want to work with me. I had two different teams/companies in mind, and decided to try the smaller outlet first. We exchanged friendly and informative emails, and then I sent them about 20 pages for a sample edit. They got through 14 pages in that first hour, and provided good and reasonable feedback.

We signed a contract last week — YAAAAAY!!!!!!

I’m going back through the manuscript again before sending it to them–first, to rework some of the part that they read, and second, to take one more chance to smooth out any remaining rough spots before giving it to them. I said I’d plan to clean up the first five chapters, then send that to them so they can dig in. I’m currently into chapter four, and it’s Thursday evening, so I’ll be submitting the five chapters sometime this weekend.

They have assured me my writing is not garbage, and this has bolstered my confidence a great deal. I had hoped to publish by the end of the year, but I don’t think that’s realistic at this point. However, I fully expect that I’ll have the book done–at least the Kindle ebook posted on Amazon–early in 2019. I know it’s hard to believe me when I say that, since I’ve been working on this novel for-ev-ah, but one of the reasons I contacted an editing team is, even if I don’t have firm deadlines with them, the fact that we have a contract and an actual professional relationship will force me to prioritize my novel over a lot of other “free time” activities. It is already working, in that I’m watching less television: I’ve cut down on my cable news consumption somewhat, and I don’t think I’ve looked at any of this fall’s new prime time shows. Also, NaNoWriMo is coming in a few weeks, which means in-person writing events and online encouragement from other Topeka writers. Instead of trying for “new words,” I’ll be going full-steam ahead on my edits. I can’t wait!

A couple quick notes about “the usual chaos” I mentioned in the title:

Kyle is in his first semester at Washburn University, and so far, so good; just ordered a calculator tonight that he needs before his math test next Tuesday;

Ryan is a junior, and has been running cross country, so his sports-related events are keeping us busy, of course;

Ryan had his last appointment today for his invisible braces, and they gave him his first retainer; I’m glad we won’t have any more dental appointments for him for a while;

October is open enrollment for health insurance through work, which of course means looking at all the different plans and vendors, comparing co-pays and deductibles as well as how much will come out of our checks every two weeks, going back and forth with Jeff about all the options, and ultimately making very similar choices to what we already have this year, but that feeling when I make my selections and submit them is like I’ve climbed a mountain and can finally rest;

and I could list ten or more other things, but instead I’ll just say that I am binge-watching a show for what might be the first time in my life, and it’s because Kyle got hooked on it and convinced me to try it, so now I watch it with him, and how can I say no when my child wants to spend time with me? It’s The 100, a show I’d heard of but didn’t know anything about. We’re four or five episodes into season three, and sometimes it’s confusing, with all the different characters and people switching allegiances, plus it’s set in the future–but I really like it. We’re going to watch our next episode tonight, as soon as I finish this, but then no more for me until I get those five chapters submitted to my editors!

In closing: be kind to yourself, because I’m sure you’ve earned it–and watch this space for more updates about my novel!

Where have I been? What the heck have I been doing?

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This is just a quick post to explain what I’ve been doing for the last six to eight months. This is a photo I took of my TV screen a week ago, of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, and her now-famous wall-size display that lists all the people (by position, not personal name) who have either resigned from the Trump administration or been fired since he took office fourteen months ago. I feel it sums up where a lot of my time has gone, while I’ve been away from here.

 

In short, I have been wildly distracted by breaking news almost every day, and I’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time on Twitter (that’s the link to my handle).

One unfortunate thing is that my reading time has suffered, and one really embarrassing thing is that I’ve been writing even less than I’ve been reading. I realize that I need to seriously cut back on my news and media consumption if I’m ever going to finish writing a novel. If only this Dumpster fire of a presidential administration would be over, or if we could at least have maybe a full week without a new scandal in the White House or a high-profile firing or resignation, or without him saying and/or doing things that are spiteful and idiotic and completely unbecoming the office he holds. Just, ugh. So yeah, I need to get away from that somewhat, and soon.

Before I do step back, though, I’m planning to participate in a local event this Saturday, March 24, that’s part of the March for Our Lives. On Valentine’s Day, just five weeks ago, there was a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen people died, and about the same number of people were injured, some very seriously. A group of students who survived the shooting started talking to reporters, appearing on TV news shows, and giving speeches. Within days, they began to organize, to plan school walk-outs as well as a march in Washington, DC, and to spread their messages on social media. The primary message is #NeverAgain, because they hoped the Parkland shooting would be the last school shooting. (It wasn’t, but the subsequent incidents have been much smaller, and at least a couple were accidental.) I’m amazed at their courage and determination, and I’m afraid for my own children, so I support their cause 100 percent.

By next week, I will be getting back into the swing of writing, because dammit, my books won’t write themselves.

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.

The poem I read at the Open Mic: “No Sunrise”

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A few nights ago, I attended the third annual Poetry Reading and Open Mic at Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library. It’s always held sometime in April for National Poetry Month. (Did I ever tell you TSCPL was named 2016 Library of the Year by Library Journal? Yes, my public library really is that awesome!) The event ran a bit long, but it was great to hear a wide variety of voices and different kinds of poems. One older gentleman read a villanelle, and his reading style was so dramatic that I actually jumped once or twice, but it was just excellent. The featured readers were local writer Leah Sewell and Wichita-based poet Roy Beckemeyer, who both brought their A-game.

There were a few poems I considered reading, but I ultimately chose “No Sunrise.” It’s one of my “drowning” poems, and I thought about commenting before my reading that I’m not originally from Kansas. (It seems funny to me that I have so much ocean in my poems, from a youth not too far from water, yet I’ve ended up living in a land-locked state.) But I was too nervous to really say anything but “Hi.” I tried to glance out at the audience a little, but the second time, I slightly flubbed a line, so then I didn’t do it again until the end. I’d never read this one in public before, but I thought the time was right to put it in the spotlight.

 

No Sunrise

I want to be in the sea.
I feel closer to water
than to your family;
the ocean is more like home,
and the camper frightens me.
I should not be here,
I’ll never come here,
I didn’t know what to wear.

Supper was the hardest part.
You fed me and fed me
but you couldn’t see
me needing you.
I didn’t offer
to help your mother —
the thought was there,
but sound died in my mouth.

And I cried on the shore,
the edge of the world —
a girl thick in the mist
of an unsleeping sea,
weeping from my own soul,
bleeding from wounds
that are nowhere … but sore.
No sunrise here anymore.

 

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 — the ebook is only 99 cents — and it’s a pretty good collection (she said modestly). Click here to find it at your preferred vendor. Thank you for reading!