Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cover Love

December typically marks the time when I reflect on my favorite books of the year (blog on that one forthcoming) and look ahead to what books I might want for Christmas or to mark in the "to be read" pile on Goodreads. Here are a few intriguing stories and equally intriguing covers.

1. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Here's what it's about: Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from "aging out" of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life - answers that will ultimately free them both.

2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns quickly became one of my favorite reads, beautifully intertwining various people's lives impactfully and thoughtfully together so I'm excited to see what happens here. Here's the description: novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos.
3. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
This isn't the typical kind of cover I fall in love with. Usually I'm all for realistic imagery but I appreciate the simpleness of this one especially given the time setting in the 1980s. I'm curious to see how or if music plays a role in the novel given the headphones. It makes me think of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist which is exciting. Also, who doesn't want to read a book by someone named Rainbow? Here's the description: Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

So tell me, what books are you most looking forward to reading and why?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Self Worth and Writing

I've been meaning to write on this blog for a while now--a long while. I haven't given up on it and there is a list a million miles long of forthcoming book reviews and other related posts that I really am so excited to share. (So stay tuned. Really, I mean it; other new posts are coming!) However, somehow time and, in a way, life have gotten away from me these past several months.

To be honest, I'm not 100% sure I know where they went. I worked hard but certainly didn't live at the office. I met up with friends but my social calendar didn't explode with daily reminders. I volunteered, did odd projects around the house, and altogether lived my life except that living my life feels like it's been on high speed lately. Yes, no one single thing has consumed me and yet I've felt consumed, altogether crazed for more "me" time or on occasion simply more time. I'm told time only speeds up as we age too so it's simply one more reason I favor time travel--or cloning!

How I spend "me" time is also very much filled with writing and reading time. I don't quite feel like myself without this element in tact. The oddity, of course, is that I technically read and write for a living. I'm in front of a computer, composing words or helping others wordsmith day in and day out. I'm navigating the sometimes breezy and sometime tumultuous waters of writing for other people and having multiple reviewers with sometimes varying ideas on vision. This is a great education, and it's one that I love.

As time dwindles, we're forced to either a) go crazy or b) re-prioritize. And as one week fell into another and I realized I had started to slack on the blog it seemed like the likely place to free up some necessary time especially as I worked to rewrite my manuscript. Truth be told, however, I thought my manuscript would be done by now and because it isn't and today is already (SOMEHOW!) December 12th, I'm having that writerly moment of crisis, that questioning of worth. All these days passed and how much progress have I really made?

I think we've all been here at some time or another. Some days are bad writing days and we delete everything we put down. Other days the question of worth comes in the forth of a critique or a rejection. I believe as writers we're fickle folk: brave enough to put our words and ourselves out there in the world and yet so sensitive and prideful of what we've sent out for all the world to see. And, yes, with each word we write or each sentence we reconstruct we're becoming better at our trade. What's difficult is that sometimes seeing that betterment can be hard. If we're creating cabinets then each piece of wood is very tangible and yes, as writers we can count words but words for the sake of words don't make a good story and what of editing--swapping out the old and bringing in the better?

For example, I know my current manuscript is far superior to earlier drafts. There's been so much plot redevelopment and new text that I'm not even sure this could be called the same book. And yet I want to feel that sense of accomplishment of completing it and finally querying it. I feel like a runner who has trained and trained and knows full well there's a marathon ahead and yet isn't quite yet to the start line. Just shoot the gun and let me take off in motion already! I want to say but, alas, I'm not quite there yet. Close but not complete.

What I'm realizing is that with my writing I have to be much more regimented than I ever have been before. Just as any other activity I take on, this has to be on my calendar. I have to make room for it or life and its other commitments will always find a way in. This is hard because I prefer to write when I'm inspired, whether listening to music or dashing in after a walk with the dogs nearly breathless with excitement at my new plot line revelation. That kind of writing still has a place but it must be amidst the outlining and the butt-in-the-chair no matter what kind of strictness.

Recommitting to this blog is a way for me to recommit to the writerly world too, which is important both in terms of motivation but also in terms of support. No one else quite understands all the wonkiness of jotting down ideas on napkins or self text messaging so they aren't lost or of reading passages aloud to oneself just to hear how it all rolls off the tongue. We're a manic bunch who could spend 30 minutes on a single paragraph which will end in either sheer heartache (How did I spend 30 minutes and have nothing good to show for it?! This book will never come out before I'm old and gray and all the agents I'm eyeing are long retired!) or sheer excitement of nailing that perfect word choice to perfection (I'm a writerly genius! Publishing Houses here I come!).

In the end, just as everything in life, we need to keep perspective; we need to ask for encouragement when we need it; and we need to take stock in what good we have done today even if it's not all exactly as we planned. If we do that then, hopefully, we won't feel like passive participants in our lives but as active drivers directing things in our favor and enjoying the process all the same.

So tell me, what helps you carve out time for yourself? What advice would you give to other writers needing encouragement?