Archive for the ‘books’ Category

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The Sky and the Page

May 29, 2019
agriculture clouds countryside cropland

Photo by Ákos Szabó on Pexels.com

 

To escape annual May snowstorms (truth), I find ways to write and work away from home. Although it would be lovely to hop on a plane and head somewhere exotic, I usually settle for something a bit more realistic.

Like Nebraska.

This year, after I finished grading papers and wrapping up the semester, I found a small space to rent on a Mennonite organic popcorn farm. Who knew? But the cabin was the perfect size and place for a writer on retreat. In addition to a chair and a bed, I had a small desk and an outside picnic table perched under a tree filled with songbirds. The property came with two happy dogs, chickens, cows, a couple of old barns, and gracious hosts.

To break up the writing, I took long walks down dirt roads. Sky surrounded me in every direction, and it wasn’t hard to imagine pioneers plodding across the prairie in their covered wagons. Not much changes on the prairie.

Except the sky.

The sky in Nebraska was nothing short of spectacular, opening itself with outstretched arms. Birds welcomed the sun in the morning and sung it goodnight in the evening when the colors changed from dusty blue to violet black. The wind whipped across the grasslands. Throughout the day, clouds came and went, gathered and scattered. In the distance, lightning struck, and rain fell.

As I wrote, the sky became my metaphor for the page.

The morning skies ushered the sun, and my day began with hope. As my shoulders warmed, my writing worked. But later, I struggled for the correct word, the just-right sentence. Thoughts jammed inside my head like the clouds cramming together to block the sun.

I slammed my computer shut. The rain came. Finally, when the smell of sweet grass filled the air, a fresh idea, a different twist and take on the story, came to mind. My fingers flew across the keyboard as the shape of the sky transformed into something new, something breathtaking.

During my stay, the pattern of change repeated itself. When the rain arrived, or the sun seared, I took breaks. I played with crayons and read stories. I napped. When my thoughts struggled, I moved. I walked and ran and drove across the prairie, and eventually, new ideas appeared. Allowing myself space to stand back gave me and my work renewed life.

The Nebraskan sky spoke to me. I surrendered to its never-ending bursts and applied that to my work. I paid attention to the way the sky, my writing, and my life transformed throughout the day. Harmony. My work had its challenges, but like the sky, I had amazing moments, stretching far and wide.

Both beauty and words arrived.

 

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Best Books of the Year

December 3, 2018
books on bookshelves

Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

Back Again: A few of my favorites books of the year (some were published before 2018- it just took me until now to read them). They are in no particular order.

Middle Grade:                                             

Louisiana’s Way Home; Kate Di Camillo

The Someday Birds: Sally J. Pla

One and Only Ivan: Katherine Applegate (how did I not read this until now?)

Young Adult:

Written in the Stars: Aisha Saeed

We are Okay: Nina La Cour

Dear Martin: Nic Stone

You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone: Rachel Lynn Solomon

Adult Fiction:

The Great Believers; Rebecca Makkai (this is #2 on the NYTIMES best books of 2018- see below)

Nightingale: Kristin Hannah

Sing Unburied, Sing: Jesmyn Ward

Non-Fiction and Memoir:

Why I no Longer Talk to White People

The Recovering: Leslie Jamison

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Rebecca Skloot

Educated: Tara Westover

Here’s a link to the top 10 2018 favorites from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/29/books/review/best-books.html

As always… it doesn’t matter what you read, just read!

Happy December, y’all!

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How Ursula K. Le Guin Taught Me to Keep Writing

August 23, 2018

When I stopped writing a column for our local paper, I stopped writing essays.

Big mistake.

I lied to myself, rationalizing reasons why. I stopped because I needed to focus on fiction writing. I stopped because I was too busy teaching. I stopped because of limited time left with teenagers at home. Mostly, I’d stopped writing essays because I didn’t know what to do with them and was plagued by self-doubt.

I questioned whether or not I should seek publication elsewhere, continue my blog, or squirrel the words away, stuffing them into a folder. I wasn’t sure where to focus. If I continued writing essays, did I need to concentrate on particular issues? Should I write about writing, about politics, about parenting or relationships or emotional hardships or my dog? Themes and thoughts triggered my words, but I left them floating adrift.

Perhaps, at the deepest level, I wondered if anyone wanted to hear what I had to say. Who was my audience? Who cared?

Maybe no one.

But as days pushed by and words tackled pieces of my brain, begging to escape; I realized it didn’t matter. Writing essays, whether they were political rants or deep misgivings, gave me a therapeutic vent for my rambling thoughts. I needed a place to put my volatile emotions and passionate beliefs.

I recently read No time to Spare; Ursula K. Le Guin’s collection of blog posts and realized she wasn’t writing to anyone in particular. She had no consistent theme. She wrote about age, she wrote about her cat. Her words screamed, they whispered, they laughed. She clearly didn’t give a damn who read her written thoughts. She wrote them because she had no choice.

Although I enjoy teaching, writing fiction and crafting story is my life’s work. I care about plot and characters and theme. I want to publish, but for me, writing fiction is different than writing essays. I don’t care who reads my contemplations—but because I can’t stop them—why not write them anyway? With that knowing, I’ll continue my blog. I’ll publish on Medium. I’ll send a few letters to the editor. I may write haphazardly about ideas and issues; perhaps I’ll write weekly; maybe bi-monthly.

The only think I do know? I’m back writing essays.

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A Published link…

April 24, 2018

This was published on MEDIUM but the link’s not working so I’m republishing here.

View at Medium.com

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For a writer, late April often conjures up scenes of tulips and daffodils; poets whisper words about sweet smelling cherry blossoms, the taste of crisp asparagus, and the sound of evening birds singing goodnight. But not this April.

During my five days at a Getting to Know your Novelworkshop with Sarah Aronson at the Highlights Foundation, it rained like a Dublin downpour and snowed like a mid-winter blizzard. Every. Single. Day.

But just as Sarah promised, magic came anyway.

My time in Pennsylvania moved my writing and made me think harder, clearer, and deeper about my characters. I thought about their needs. I thought about mine. I shifted arcs, developed plot, and asked more questions. I met fantastic folks who stretched my beliefs about my book and pushed me further. Hopefully, I did the same for them. We arrived from various places: Chicago, Vermont, San Diego, Colorado, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and more. By the time we left, we had uncovered a common home at Highlights.

As weather pounded the roof and muddied the ground, we wrote. Sarah, and her team of teaching assistants, shared secrets and wisdom, inspiring us. We wrote more passages, talked craft, and edited work, while experiencing the writers’ buzz—the kind of buzz that causes one to stay up late and wake up early—only to repeat the experience. Each morning, we met with eager words, new ideas, and sometimes, a bit of frustration. However, when our red-inked pages turned on us, making us squeeze our eyes shut and silently scream; we had each other.

Highlights is more than a place; it’s an escape from ‘regular’ life. It’s a space to dive into a literary extravaganza. A writing community is essential for a writing life, and I’m grateful for all my teachers and partners in this process. By the end of the workshop, I had discovered some of Sarah’s sparkly glitter and the kind of magic a place like Highlights brings to the writer’s desk.

In each of our rooms, we found black notebooks filled with notes from other writers who had stayed at Highlights. I snapped a picture of someone’s quote from Seamus Heaney, summing up a Highlights experience.

The main thing is to write for the joy of it… Let go, let fly, forget. You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.

And I will.

 

 

 

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Best of 2017

December 8, 2017

I’ve dropped off the blog universe this year but am chiming in now. Why? Because it’s Best Books of the Year time! If you’re a book junkie, I suggest you link to the Kirkus Review, Good Reads, or your favorite bookstore to see their list.

Because I write and teach, I read. It’s my work, in addition to my great pleasure. That said, I read a lot- over 200 books a year.

In no particular order, these are my top choices from 2017. (note- most of the books are older than 2017- it’s just that I read them in 2017)

Adult Fiction:

Homegoing: Yaa Gyasi

Beartown: Fredrik Backman

Lilac Girls: Martha Hall Kelly

History of Wolves: Emily Fridlund

Anything is Possible: Elizabeth Strout

Middle Grade:                                                           

           -Ghost: Jason Reynolds

George: Alex Gino

Fish in a Tree: Lynda Mullaly Hunt

The Stars Beneath Our Feet: David Barclay Moore

 Young Adult:

The Hate You Give: Angie Thomas

Wolf Hollow: Lauren Wolk (more often categorized as MG)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (this is not new, but I loved it)

Allegedly: Tiffany Jackson

 Non-Fiction and Memoir:

Option B: Sheryl Sandberg

Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years: David Litt

Difficult Women: Roxane Gay

Thank You for Being Late: Thomas L Friedman

Dream Yoga: Andrew Holecek

I’m reading all the other “best of” reviews and compiling my library list right now. Can’t wait to dig in. It doesn’t matter what you read, just read!

 

 

 

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Best Books and Reading Lists

January 19, 2017

Last year I started a list, cataloging all the books I read in 2016. I won’t give the number because it’s a lot, and I don’t want to come across as a braggart. I’m a writer, and all writers should be reading. It’s part of my work. By making a list, I review what genres I read most (YA) as well as what I lacked (poetry), and it helps determine what to read this year. There are SOOOOOO many books and only so much time, right?

A lot of people ask me for suggestions, which I always find hard to do. However, now that I have my list, it’s a little easier.

Here are a few of my favorites from 2016 (some were published before 2016- it just took me until 2016 to read them).

Picture Book:

Last Stop on Market Street; Matt De La Pena         

Middle Grade:                                                           

5 Times Revenge; Lindsay Eland

The Thing About Jellyfish: Ali Benjamin 

Young Adult:

Girl in Pieces; Kathleen Glasgow

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli

Bone Gap, Laura Ruby          

I will Save You: Matt de la Pena

Adult Fiction:

God Help the Child: Toni Morrison   

Tell the Wolves I’m Home: Carol Rifka Brunt

Everything I Ever Knew: Celeste NG

A Man Called Ove: Fredrik Backman

Trans-Sister Radio; Chris Bohjalian

Short Story:

A Manual For Cleaning Woman: Lucia Berlin

Essay:

Far and Away: selected stories: Andrew Solomon

Non-Fiction:

Between the World and Me; Ta-Nehisi Coates

READ ON!

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Quotes

November 21, 2016

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. -Marcel Proust

 

Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are. – Bernice Johnson Reagon

 

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper patterns at the right moment. -Hart Crane