Thursday, April 28, 2011

Give Yourself Permission

I've had a crazy couple of weeks. There have been several 10 or 12-hour work days at the office, metro delays meaning long commutes home, dogs to care for, out of town guests to entertain, an ominous leak in the ceiling to resolve, and then what little time I have remaining attempt to get a run in, take a shower, and make a decent meal for the family. So where is the time to write? To blog? To read my Publishers Marketplace email updates? To Tweet? To read other writerly types blogs? Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day to do all the things I feel like I should.

On top of that I am right at the cusp of some major action unfolding in my WIP. I'm excited to get into it and really want to keep things moving along. A few weeks ago I felt like I saw the end of the tunnel to my WIP, at least to the first draft. With few days to write and little time available when I do, the word counts have been low. It's like seeing the end of the tunnel and yet instead of running towards it, I'm walking in place. It's discouraging.

We've all been here at one time or another. And even when we have our writing mojo in full effect sometimes life still pulls us away from our WIP forcing us to step away from the computer and extract ourselves from the world we write to re-enter the world we live.

And then there's the tendency to compare, to see the word counts flashing across other Twitter streams when I do log on and use this to fuel my guilt for not carving out more time no matter what! (Those episodes of Glee can stay on Tivo; no more distractions!) Writers are not averse to the confidence roller coaster.

Sometimes, however, we need to give ourselves permission to take a day off, to not rush home from work to promptly throw ourselves into our WIP. My mom used to call it "mental health days." Maybe we don't need entire days but, rather, blocks of time now and then to just unwind. At the office I always remind people that they can only do one thing at a time no matter how much is on their plate and the same is true for writing. I can't write a blog post while I work on my WIP. I can't read Publishers Marketplace and my next book club book at the same time. So one by one I tackle things off my "to do" list rather than stare at the entire list and feel overwhelmed.

Some multitasking of other kinds, however, is possible. For example those walks with the dogs I'm brainstorming story ideas, the long metro rides home I'm reading in my book. So while these aren't the big chunks of time I would love to have or the kind of more concentrated attention I'd like to give, right now it's all there is so I have to make the most of it. And I have to give myself credit for doing this too. It all counts!

I also have to remind myself that this is not NaNoWriMO. A few hundred great words trumps a few thousand poor ones every time. I try to be proud of the words I do write and remind myself I'll be grateful come editing time that I didn't rush through to the end just to be finished. Being finished with a written project, of course, is not what writing is all about. It's about the process. The WHOLE process.

While I'm frustrated that there hasn't been more time lately to devote to that process, I need to give myself permission to be excited about what I've accomplished already: 60K words I'm proud of and slowly counting.

Molly O'Neill at Katherine Tegen Books (an imprint of HarpersCollins Children's Books) wrote a beautiful post as part of last year's WriteOnCon about writers giving themselves permission to do what they do--to write! I'm saying sometimes we need to also give ourselves permission to take a day off from that writing if we need it; to not write just for writing's sake. To give ourselves credit for all the writing-related things we do every day even if they don't increase our total word count. To give ourselves permission to put that inner critic in the corner for a time out. To take care of ourselves so when we do sit down to write it's as cathartic and wonderful and productive as we hoped.

What do you need to give yourself permission to do?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


OMG! On the Twitter feeds there's been discussion about upcoming children's books and past favs. And then this one came up: Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam's Mansbach

Yup, that's a real book. I haven't read it but it sounds like the David Sedaris of children's authors. HILARIOUS!

I should preface that this is more a spoof on children's books with the intended audience being parents but still, absolute title love. I don't know a single set of parents who haven't felt like this on one occasion or another!

What's your title love this week?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Swagger Song

Love this! Do you agree? What's your new swagger song this week?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spring is for....

When I lived in Upstate New York my favorite season was fall. No questions. Hands down. Not even a contest.

Then I moved South.

In Washington, DC there are still four seasons but fall doesn't have the same vibrant colors, the leaves on fire in reds, oranges, and yellows. And I learned that what I thought was spring in Upstate New York was merely snow melt. Here in Washington, DC I learned what spring really means.

It means the city smelling of cherry blossoms.

It means DC Jazz Festival.

Flowers and vendors galore at Eastern Market.

It's the Vintage Virginia Outdoor Wine Festival.

And, of course, spring is for soccer. (Outdoor games began April 1; here's photographic proof if you don't believe me.)

What does spring mean for you (or are you still stuck in winter)?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Lonely Hearts Club

The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg

Here what it's about: After a devastating betrayal by the boy she thought she was destined to be with forever, Penny Lane Bloom (who fortunately inherited her parents’ love of the Beatles to go with her name) swears off guys and quietly starts the Lonely Hearts Club. To her surprise, many of her girlfriends are also sick of high-school guys and want to join—even Diane, Penny’s former best friend and one-half of the school’s power couple until a recent, amicable breakup. The club grows and becomes an influential social force as members meet every Saturday night, go to dances together, and support one another in their academic and extracurricular pursuits. But conflict arises when the school administration fears the group is getting too powerful and “making the boys feel bad,” and Penny finds herself torn between her no-boy pledge and the courteous advances of one of the nicest guys she knows—who happens to be Diane’s ex-boyfriend. This first novel will be a draw for readers looking for an upbeat take on friendship, empowerment, and finding romance without losing yourself.

I remembered reading that Eulberg worked as a publicist on YA books for Little Brown including promotion for Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga before turning to write full time. I had also heard great reviews of this very fun book.

Penny Lane is a wonderful heroine. She's independent, feisty, sarcastic, and smart. She's also someone I would have been friends with in high school and like much of The Lonely Hearts Club, probably would have looked up to as well. Penny does, of course, have her own share of insecurities particularly when it comes to boys. I loved, however, that she decided to swear off them rather than get even.

As readers we're able to see Penny's full transformation throughout the book but also of her friends too. Eulberg addresses issues like equal rights, parental pressures, sense of self, peer pressure, and many other pertinent issues.

I also adored Ryan. Finally we have a love interest who is, granted, very cute (not so new) but who is a normal guy. Penny isn't thinking all these crazy, steamy thoughts when he's around but, rather, trying to discern her feelings, figure out how the two might fit, and determine if she can be true to the club and to herself if she lets herself date--and love--again. Ryan on the surface seems perfect but he's quick to admit that so much of that is pressure to fit inside a mold, to get to a good college, to be who other people think he should be as if they have a better sense of him than he does. I could totally relate to this feeling and so few books in YA seem to bring it up.

There's also Penny's friend Diane. She was a great character and extraordinarily brave. She risked her social standing as a cheerleader to try out for the basketball team. Sure it may sound like swapping one extracurricular for another but it opposes the entire school's perception of her and her social reign. With the support and encouragement from her friends on the Club, however, she's able to truly explore her interests without apology and, in my opinion, made the greatest transformation of anyone in the book.

This is a super fast read and fun all around. It did come across a little more message driven than most other YA novels I've read. The messages are good, of course, and help anchor the book and originate from the Lonely Hearts Club: messages about friends coming first, not losing your identity when you're dating, etc. The book also felt a little on the younger end of the spectrum for YA though Penny and her friends are seniors.

On the whole this is an enjoyable read and if you have a daughter or a young friend in need of some summer reading then no question you have to pick this up.

What have you been reading lately?

What I've Learned This Week

1. Just because it's spring doesn't mean you can't get a cold.

I know I've totally slacked this week on the blog posts. Just as the nice weather has decided to make it's grand appearance down here in DC, my allergies have acted up and I've been walking around in a haze. To make up for it I'm posting a review of Elizabeth Eulberg's The Lonely Hearts Club tomorrow. (You won't be disappointed!)

2. I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I cannot believe it but I'm almost at the main climax of my WIP (ie. the end is near)! I have three chapters in need of some sprucing and then four more to go. In word count that puts me at approximately 60K and counting.

3. Nothing puts me in a better mood than fresh tulips.

My husband came home the other day with a bouquet of tulips. Seeing them around the house reminds me of the nice weather and leads to daydreams of the hiking I'll do and the fun trips I'll take and the sundresses I'll resurrect from my closet.

4. Fun trips are just around the corner.

I booked a trip to Orlando (for a girlfriend's 30th birthday) and a trip to Turks & Caicos (for a wedding). Both were made so long ago that they seemed like happy thoughts to get me through the cold winter and not realities getting closer and closer. It dawned on me yesterday that they are both mere weeks away. I'm thrilled, of course, at losing my "office tan" (ie. pasty whiteness) but my abs (alright everything!) may need a serious boot camp to get bikini ready. Wish me luck!

5. There is no age restriction for YA.

Last night my dad (ie. my 63-year-old father) told me he's been listening to The Hunger Games on audiotape on his commutes to and from work. And on top of that, I wasn't even the one to convince him to check it out. It was my mother! YA FTW!

6. Home improvement projects are like bad relationships.

My husband and I have been doing a lot of projects around the house. Part of home ownership I've learned is that there are always more projects to do. But they're like bad relationships in that there are so many highs and lows. Highs: OMG, that paint color actually looks like what it's supposed to. Lows: How the hell did I get dark blue paint on the ceiling and do you think that crack means we need to call a plumber? By the end you're just glad when it's over and you can move on.

7. I've uncovered another swagger song.

I know I've discussed swagger songs before. Others have been included here. Well, now I have a new one, "Uncharted" by Sara Bareilles. I LOVE it! There are also a ton of cameos from Ben Folds to Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles and more. Enjoy!

What have you learned this week?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Awaiting Summer

OMG! This summer can't come soon enough. Sure I'm hoping for warmer weather and fun, little dresses but it's more than that.

It's Divergent by Veronica Roth, So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, Between Here and Forever by Elizabeth Scott, Possession by Elana Johnson, Supernaturally by Kiersten White, and Original Sin by Lisa Desrochers. (Keep reading as there's a start to summer giveaway!)

And it's not just books I'm jonesing for. It's movies too! We have Bridesmaids which I featured here. Then there's The Hangover 2:

We, of course, have Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Horray!

There's Tranformers 3: The Dark Side of the Moon, which I remember them filming here in downtown Washington, DC.

And now Crazy, Stupid, Love--a movie I hadn't even heard of it until yesterday but am now anxiously awaiting it's release. Added bonus is that I adore just about every actor/actress in the film. (Oh, and Ryan Gosling takes his shirt off *fangirl squee!*) Enjoy!

To celebrate the oncoming warm weather, I'm hosting a giveaway. As I can't really give away movie tickets, the contest will focus exclusively on the great summer reads I list above. Since the first release date is May 3, that will be the close date to enter.

How it works: The contest winner (there will only be one) will be able to select one book from those listed above. If it releases on May 3 then it will be ordered and shipped immediately; if it doesn't release until later in the summer it will be pre-ordered for you and shipped on the release date. Contest is international. Good luck!


1. Must be a follower
2. Extra entries if you Tweet (@SCookRay is hosting a "Start to Summer" #bookgiveaway), Facebook, blog post, blog ad, or otherwise. *Be sure to include the link to the contest*
3. Two extra entries if you refer a friend.
4. Extra entry if you leave a comment about what book(s) or movie(s) you're most looking forward to this summer and why.
5. Contest open now until May 3 at 11:59 EST. (Winner will be announced on May 4.)
6. To enter, email me at, subject "Start to Summer book giveaway"

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In Which There's a Dance Off

I've written here about how much I love a good sing-off so, of course, it's no surprise I'm obsessed with Glee. Still, as far as I'm concerned there's nothing that beats a great dance-off. In fact, 80s dance-off is number 7 on my "25 Things You Don't Know About Me" post (aka, my first blog post EVER).

I caught the movie Take Me Home Tonight recently. It's a bit of an 1980s version of the movie Can't Hardly Wait.

Topher Grace did a great job as a recent M.I.T. college grad still trying to figure out what he's supposed to do with his life. In the vein of "Can't Hardly Wait" or "Superbad," this film takes the one night adventure with a quirky best friend with the goal of landing the girl. Because the characters are a little older, however, I felt their storylines held a little substance or perhaps simply the similar pressures of high school coupled with "real world" issues too (e.g. If you hate your job and that's how you're defined then what does that say about you?)

While there were silly moments like this dance off (which includes none other than the infamous Karate Kid kick), the film is well balanced with questions of how we judge others, what we want in life, and whether it's okay not to know.

And so without further ado, let the dancing begin!

Anyone else know of a good dance-off or sing-off? Share it here!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Let the Great World Spin

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Here's what it's about: In the dawning light of a late-summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. It is August 1974, and a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground. In the streets below, a slew of ordinary lives become extraordinary in bestselling novelist Colum McCann’s stunningly intricate portrait of a city and its people.

Let the Great World Spin won the the 2009 National Book Award for fiction and has been praised by just about everybody. And I'm not going to be any different. I will preface that if you're looking for a book that shoots out of the gates at 100 mph, this is that not novel. It is, however, one of the best written novels I've ever picked up. It makes the rest of us feel a little like hacks. In fact, I could have told you this just a few pages in because McCann's words are nothing short of poetic and when strung together it's sheer genius, it's beautiful.

The novel begins with the real-life feat of Philippe Petit's tight-rope walk in 1974 across the Twin Towers. This was also the the central theme to the Academy Award-winning documentary Man on Wire.

While Petit's act begins the novel and grounds the work around a focal point to return to, the real storyline is about the everyday people of New York City and how they're moving around one another, sometimes they're lives never quite intersecting until one event brings them together. This is not only true for the people standing in awe of the tight-rope and trying to make sense of what they see but of the mothers who come together in the book to mourn their sons sent away and never returned from Vietnam. It's the story of the prostitutes befriending a priest. Of the Guatemalan nurse, the judge, and an artist.

In the New York Times book review they compare the book's organization to the movie Crash. How our life's events domino down, how none of us are entirely alone and untouchable. As the adage goes, "No man is an island."

What I loved about this book were the alternating perspectives, the rich description, and McCann's fascination with everyday people. My background in writing is in non-fiction and what I love about that genre is the idea of finding the extraordinary in everyday life. While this is still a piece of fiction, these people and their hardships are so real there are moments you believe they are too.

I couldn't help but compare McCann to Corrigan, an Irish Catholic priest who moves from Ireland to the Bronx and befriends all those in New York's underbelly: the prostitutes, the drunks, the drug addicts, the homeless, and even enduring beatings from the local pimps. The comparison isn't because I know much of McCann except that he's Irish but rather because, like Corrigan, he's trying to see the beauty beneath the soot. He's searching for meaning where others would never think to look. McCann seems to believe we're part of something bigger just as Corrigan does. In fact, even when Corrigan becomes angry with "his God" he never quite loses faith. The theme of faith is interwoven in this novel but it's more than that. It's a kind of endurance. An active faith. People in search of connection and believing, even when life seems to suggest otherwise, that they'll find it. Somehow.

This is a book to fall in love with. The characters are mesmerizing and there's something--some thread--that makes it feel current day rather than 1974. Perhaps it's the nostalgia for the Twin Towers or because we know those ghettos in NYC or any city USA still exist; they may have been pushed out or redistricted but they're there, in the shadows. And the war may have changed from Vietnam to any of the three we're involved in now, but war is war. As the grieving mothers say in the book, "There's one truth to war: Don't go." And when you read this you want to weep for them and for all the people you know who are overseas now. You want to call out, "Don't go." You want to save the people in your own community. You want to try to see things from a different perspective. And you want to feel connected with the world around you even if it's in ways you don't even comprehend.

That's what this novel does to you.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What We Can Learn From Songwriting

Adele is an English singer-songwriter who is well worth getting to know if you don't already. I just heard her new song, "Someone Like You," and it blew me away. Adele has a hauntingly beautiful voice. More than anything, however, it was the lyrics and their raw honesty that made me take note.

While I've never been in precisely the same situation as the singer or this song,I felt a real connection to it. I think we can all relate to the feeling of inadequacy, that our best isn't enough, or that someone else can give our love interest what they want more than we can. The lyrics tap into that feeling, suck you in and hold your attention there. And because of this, I used the song as a kind of soundtrack for a scene in my WIP where my character is really struggling.

Listening to this song over and over got me thinking about writing and books. Even if it's fantasy or paranormal or some contemporary setting that juxtaposes our own, if the characters have a quality (a personality trait or flaw) that we can really, truly recognize then it's more likely to be successful. I guess in truth what I'm saying is that when readers can see some flicker of themselves in a novel, the words feel more real, the story more authentic. The story can still be an escape for us but when we see ourselves in the characters it feels like we're more fully going along for the ride.

Do you agree? Do you find the books or songs that hold your attention are those where you can see yourself between the lines?