Tag: books

It’s Book Pub Day! New Releases: September 29, 2020

Hi! It’s Pub Day, here again! There are some INTRIGUING new books being released into the world today, everybody. Shall we take a look?   Fiction The Bell in the Lake: A Novel, by Lars Mytting   Just Like You: A Novel, by Nick Hornby 

It’s Pub Day! New Books to Read! September 22, 2020 Releases

Hi! Tuesday is Publication Day in Book World. It’s the most exciting day for an author: new books are released by their publishers, we get to read them, and all are happy. Because I know many of you like to read as much as I 

Because the Best Writers are the Ones Who Stopped Thinking

Because the Best Writers are the Ones Who Stopped Thinking

The writing has been tough for me this winter. I’d been on a roll, but then suggestions from my agent stopped me in my tracks (her suggestions were spot-on. It’s just that when anybody else expresses an opinion about a project early in I tend to shut down for a couple of days. I’m sure that’s totally normal). Then when I got rolling again, I started working with a writing craft book that, while super helpful with technique and plotting, completely took me out of the story. My writing became less about the characters than it did about what I could DO with the characters, if that makes any sense. Basically, I was thinking too much instead of acting on instinct, and everybody knows that thinking too much is the best way to make sure no actual doing happens.

So, that was strike two. And then Christmas happened, and then a website overhaul, and then…well, here we are. I’d been in and out of the story so inconsistently that for a while I felt like I’d struck out. I was on the DL. I’d benched myself.

I’ve been in No Man’s Writer Land, friends. If you’re here, too, I’m sorry. It’s cold here. A bit barren. The food isn’t great, unless you count the box of Mallowmars I found in the back of the pantry.

But something happened last month, completely out of left field (yes, that was another baseball analogy. There are SO MANY): on a whim, my family and I went to see The Greatest Showman.

(I’m moving from sports to musicals so bear with me.)

My kids didn’t love the movie (“That fire was scary, Mom.”) so much as they fell in love with the music. I downloaded a bit of the soundtrack for them, and they are particularly obsessed with one song, “From Now On.”

With this, their favorite song, it’s the drama of it: they love the layering of this bit and that bit until the climax, then the immediate surprise twist that takes them in a different direction. They like how it starts out calm and slow, with just Hugh Jackman’s soft voice, before the piano and guitar comes in, then an accordion and a banjo, before it keeps stair-stepping into this roaring little masterpiece of voices in harmony and drumbeats and stomping before smoothing out and calming down again, almost like the song itself has to catch its breath. “I like this part,” Cian said one day in the car. In the rearview mirror I saw one of his sisters nod in agreement.

Back when I was teaching, it was inevitable that at least once a year during a lesson on symbolism in a novel, a child would pipe up and say, “Oh, come on. Do you really think the writer sat down and tried to put all these symbols in on purpose, or do you think maybe you’re just hoping she did? Like, do you think maybe some of this stuff might just be in there, you know, by accident?”

Back then, I remember saying that yeah, of course the writer knew what she was doing, that every symbol in there was put in the story with forethought and careful consideration. I remember one student looking at me dubiously, like he was silently calling my bluff. He was right. I wish I could go back and replay that moment again, because my answer would be so different.

Yes, a seasoned writer knows what she’s doing. But that’s the thing: she’s learned enough, absorbed enough, practiced enough that sometimes, the symbols appear on their own. Yes, she’ll develop them through careful editing, but does she calculate them? Not necessarily.

My bet now was that she just trusted they would appear.

I think about songwriters of big musicals–the good ones where the songs all intertwine and come back to each other and complete an entire story with a common thread, start-to-finish. Think back to when you first heard Les Miserables. Think of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton. Think of the dudes who wrote the songs in a movie musical that my children ask to listen to over and over again. Yes, these writers wrote and scratched out and tried different angles and worked with other people and wrote and thought and wrote some more. But they had years of experience behind them–of writing, of learning–but most importantly, they spend their time observing. The masterpiece creators read books and listen to music and watch plays and movies and good TV. They absorb the best parts of what they witness and file it away, in their brains, so that it becomes a part of their own skill sets.

And when it comes time to do the work themselves, they trust. Our brains aren’t idiots. If we feed them with lots of good information and habits, then give them the liberty to do what they want, they’ll probably surprise us with what they can accomplish.

We just have to trust them.

My first book, All the Difference, was try-hard in a lot of ways. I cringe sometimes when I think about it, how I tried to use this technique or build this idea, but the doing was how I learned. My second book came more easily, more naturally–and I think it’s a heck of a lot better for it (that one’s under publisher consideration at the moment. I SHALL KEEP YOU POSTED). Again, less thinking, more doing. So letting myself get frightened about my third book–one I was really excited about writing–is not only self-defeating but naive. There’s a reason why a writer gets obsessed when she’s in the middle of a project. There’s a reason why I can’t think of anything else, why I feel distracted, why all I want to do is write when I am writing. It’s how our brains work. Brains like to act. Stop and start and scared isn’t the way to create a piece of work.

Trust is the only way to create.

You: my friend in No Man’s Land right now. If you’re stuck or scared, put the Mallowmars down–they’re not very good for you anyway. Get off the bench, come over to the edge of the cliff, and look down. Do you see how green it is down there? Do you see the lushness? The brightness? It’s right there, right alongside this crappy piece of dirt you’ve stuck yourself on. It’s been right there all along, because you’ve built it yourself. All you have to do is take one step–just one more step off the edge–and you’re there.

Just trust.


But It’s So Much Warmer Right Here

If you could have checked my Facebook feed this weekend, I’m sure it looked a lot like yours, if you’re an East Coaster, too: snow. Lots and lots of pictures of snow: rulers stuck into patio-table-topped drifts, kids with huge smiles sledding down hills, dogs 

Those Endorphins are Working

In the past 24 hours, the following has occurred: a) my (revised! revised! revised!) novel went back out on submission, which means that at this very second it’s being considered by editors at a bunch of publishing houses. And I have discovered that it is still relatively 

Who You Calling a Nerd?

I keep trying to read books with Quinn. Sometimes she listens, rubbing her fingers over the characters on the pages–especially if those pages have built-in mirrors that allow her to grin at her too-adorable, two-toothed self–but mostly, to my English teacher’s chagrin, when we sit down to read together she writhes around in my lap, tries to chew on my arm, or slaps the pages close because dammit, she doesn’t want to read any stinking books right now.

She’s only 12 months old, I keep telling myself. She’s still a baby. So what if she doesn’t like to read now? It’s okay, there’s still time. There’s still time (kindly imagine the high-pitched voice wailing into the abyss, please).

Then there’s Saoirse, who will wake early in the morning and read books for an hour quietly in her bed before we even realize she’s been awake. At night, I’ll walk by her room, and even if it’s a half hour past her bedtime, there she is, in bed, with a book propped on her knees, squinting to see the pages in the waning light (Yeah, I know. Maybe it’s time to push back her bedtime). The kid rips through books and magazines and the backs of cereal boxes like I go through, well, books and magazines and…

Books. When I worked in publishing, we editors were always swapping reading material, suggesting novels to each other, lending out whatever intellectual literary fiction bestseller was hot at the moment (no, I didn’t work in fiction publishing. I worked in legal book and newspaper publishing, which is exactly as boring as it sounds, which is why we probably read so much. Probably why we went out to drink so much, too, but don’t tell my kids that. Or my mother. Actually, my mother already knows).  Books are important. Reading, in my very biased view, is what sets us up to be curious people, avid learners, better conversationalists (unless our noses are in a book, but that’ s not my point). I’m happy to see Saoirse apparently following in the letter-pressed step of an avid reader, and not just because I like the idea of having my own in-family book club one day.

Quinn, on the other hand, is not quite there yet (see? I’m still comparing my children. I told you about this. Make. Me. Stop. Pigeonholing. My children). She’d much rather use a book for shot put practice, or chew on a page as a snack. I realize that Quinn’s not wanting to sit around and read all day may have more to do with the fact that she’s learning how to stand up, and balance herself–by golly, I hear her think, will learn how to walk!–and all she wants to do is get down on the floor and movemovemove, but my literature major self (Yes, I was a lit major. And yes, my parents let me do it without voiced fears that I’d end up alone and penniless under a bridge somewhere with just my Ted Hughes poetry to keep me company) silently cries a howl of desperate sorrow, imagining that–gasp–she’ll never really learn to love books and instead get hooked on–the horror!–TV and…I can’t say it…video games. Oh, what’s a momma to do?

Relax, that’s what. Like with everything else in this life that seems like a big deal but really, really isn’t, I’ll just relax. Because the poor kid’s only a year old. She’s still throwing her sippy cup to see if the dog will catch it and eating lint off the floor (not that there’s ever lint on my floor, of course.  Ahem). And she loves to be sung to, and dances to her favorite songs, and thinks that magazine pages make for a mighty fine dose of fiber. It’s okay. The kid’s amazing, and she’ll probably surprise me by learning how to read by the time she’s like, 3 (No? Too soon?).

And if she doesn’t? So what. Somebody’s got to study something sensible when she gets to college. After all, no lit major’s going to able to afford the kind of nursing home her dad and I will want someday.

How The Royal Wedding Makes Me Want a Sandwich

I turned on the TV today so SK could watch a little Clifford. I must’ve hesitated a bit too long on coverage leading up to the royal wedding, because SK finally turned to me and said, “Mom, are they married yet? Why not?” I guess 

Procrastination as Meditation

Because it is Good Friday, and because I’m trying desperately not to get all anxious-pants about the to-do list I have before me, I’m taking a moment to ponder a little some of the good bits in my life. And because you read, so I