Oh Look I Got More Books Again

the-book-thief-1Book Fair is upon us.

After shelving all the books and making sure the repairs cabinet was still in hand, I clocked out and did a bit of shopping with my kiddos. There were too many to just carry around, so we started stacking the books we wanted up on a side table until- much tallying and quarter counting later- we were satisfied we had everything together. As I was heaping them up, a little girl stared with wide eyes up at the pile higher than her head and asked in awe, “Are you buying them all?” I assured her I was. Then I staggered over to the circulation desk and whomped down the latest additions to the home library. The librarian (aka my boss) looked at the stack, looked at me, and then laughed in my face.

She knows I have a problem. I know I have a problem. My husband who has to keep building me bookshelves knows I have a problem. Anyone who has ever set foot in my house knows I have a problem. We also all know that it’s a problem I intend to keep.

I might joke about it, but I wouldn’t say I’m a true hoarder in any seriousness, because my compulsive book collecting doesn’t significantly impair my life (although it does impair my ability to get through certain doorways- sorry hubby, I’ll get to those ones soon, I swear). Sad to say, I procure a bit more books than I can actually read each year, although I definitely and whole-heartedly intend to read each and every one of them before I die.

The trouble is the acquisition. There I am, standing in a book shop, and then I look along a shelf and –wham!– there it is. A beautiful cover, a catchy title, a fascinating premise… before I know it, I’m hooked. I hardly know what I’m doing before it’s off the shelf and in my arms. I am euphoric buying books, just giddy about taking them home and stacking them on my desk and admiring them before putting them up on the shelves. I don’t care about clothes. I don’t care about movies. I don’t care about rocks or coins or vintage buttons or Pokémon cards or antique keys. I care about books.

Once they’re acquired, there’s no getting rid of them. That love at first sight never goes away. And despite owning thousands of books, I can tell you exactly how I procured every one of them- which shop it came from, or who gave it to me for what occasion. (Seriously. I have been quizzed on this by my friends.)

Honestly, I worry about it a little bit sometimes. My husband brought up the possibility of moving once and I kept it together until I realized I would have to get rid of some of my books, and then I went completely to pieces. I cannot get rid of books. I own a book that I hate that I cannot bear to toss out. I will never inflict it on another person and I cannot bring myself to destroy it or throw it away. It lives hidden in a closet where I never have to look at it and has been there for eleven years.

What’s going to happen when I die? How long is it going to take my kids to go through my scads of books, all carefully cataloged and neatly arranged (except for those stacks lurking around doorposts and the boxes shoved under benches and beds because I ran out of room)?

It is a problem. I know that. But I keep getting more books. Books delight me in a way that no other possession does. I love the way they feel in my hands and I love the paper-and-ink smell when I open them and I love the way they line up all straight and lovely on the bookcases, like soldiers in a thousand motley uniforms. Putting them in order calms my cluttered mind and reading them soothes all my stupid first world problems. Sometimes I just run my fingers along their spines, paper and skin, and it feels good.

Maybe some day it will tip over from being a problem to being a disorder. I’m not quite there yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened. But for now, I just try to stay out of bookshops as much as possible. If I don’t see them, I won’t bring more home.

Probably.

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Kids with Books

20minReadingHooo boy, am I stressed out this weekend. One of my hundred part-times is coordinating volunteers for a local nonprofit to go into schools and read to fourth graders. The program starts today and runs for the next few weeks and I’m still scrambling to try to get together enough volunteers for the sixteen schools we’re operating in. It is hard and I am le tired.

But! I also firmly believe that it is super important! Kids with books is as right as hot chocolate with whipped cream! There are huge benefits to a child at any age who is read aloud to (Kemp, 2015), and reading for fun has huge ramifications for a child’s future academic success as well as their success in the workforce (Taylor, 2011). But right around third or fourth grade, kids often stop reading for pleasure, especially boys (Flood, 2015).

Now, my fourth grader certainly isn’t slacking in his reading time. I can hardly get him to come to meals most nights. (Why did I give him his own book case? Whyyyy?) So why does this dip in other kids’ reading matter to me? A couple reasons.

These other kids who maybe don’t read as much at home are my son’s friends. They’re the kids he hangs out with. I’m concerned with their well being – maybe not as much as his, but still. Plus I work in their school library. (So I guess that makes being sure they have book access et cetera kind of like my job… but, my other job. Not the nonprofit job. The school job. There are so many jobs…) But anyway the point is, I know these kids and I know their families and I care about them and I want to see them do well in life. They’re a part of our community. And outside of our school, it’s not hard for me to extend that blanket of community to the rest of the school district. Maybe I don’t interact with those other kids as much as our Pearl Creek Puffins, but I can’t imagine any of them are less loved by their parents and teachers than our kids are. (And Fairbanks babies are the best babies, what can I say? :P)

And then there’s the pure selfish reason that, as a writer, I want to make sure I have as many future customers out there as possible. There. I said it.

Kids may read less for all kinds of reasons, but our program is designed to engage those low interest readers. We love the high interest readers, too, but they’re going to read anyway and they’re going to like what we read no matter what, so we’re really working on those kids who wouldn’t pick up a book on their own. We want all kids to relearn that reading is fun.

To this end, we get enthusiastic volunteers who love to read to role model reading behaviors. We pick stories that we think the kids will enjoy, regardless of whether they’re literary greats. We typically read graphic novels, and while we get some flak for it from more traditional camps, the decision is deliberate. Graphic novels are better at engaging the low interest kids than text novels are. And since so much of the story can be gleaned from images instead of just the words, they follow along better. For this same reason, graphic novels can get away with higher level vocabulary without losing kids, and still light up their little brains in nearly identical ways as straight text reading. (Morrison, 2017) And since we tend toward exciting stories with engaging art, we can emphasize to the students how fun reading is, which is really what we’re after. Because if we can convince them that reading is fun, they’re going to read.

I won’t go into the details of how the program runs. (If you’re interested in learning more about the nuts and bolts of it, you’re welcome to check out the program’s website.) But it’s been running for over a decade and the kinks are mostly worked out. I think it’s a fantastic program and my fourth grader loves hearing great stories while he eats his lunch with his friends. And maybe it stresses me out, but I’ll keep at it.

Speaking of, I still have a few more gaps to fill in the reader schedule. Wish me luck, and happy reading!

Citations

(I haven’t done this since college, haha, don’t judge my sloppy citations)

  1. Flood, Alison. Sharp Decline in Children Reading for Pleasure, Survey Finds. The Guardian, 9 Jan 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/09/decline-children-reading-pleasure-survey
  2. Kemp, Carla. MRI Shows Association Between Reading to Young Children and Brain Activity. AAP News, 25 April 2015.
  3. Morrison, Leslie. The Research Behind Graphic Novels and Young Researchers. CTD News, 14 April 2017. https://www.ctd.northwestern.edu/blog/research-behind-graphic-novels-and-young-learners
  4. Taylor, Mark. Reading at 16 Linked to Better Job Prospects. University of Oxford, 9 May 2011

The Polymorphic Menu

vegetable-buns-7

Mine are not as pretty as The Woks of Life’s. 😦

I pretty much don’t leave my house for shopping (or anything) unless my family is on the brink of starvation. There was some scheduling weirdness a couple weeks ago and I missed a shopping day and so, almost the entire week after, we were subsisting on a rotation of five core ingredients: brown rice, beans, frozen vegetables, lettuce, and eggs. I mean, I had kitchen staples like flour and ketchup, but still- things had the potential to get pretty tiresome. But man oh man have I got a well-stocked spice cabinet and a vivid imagination.

Chunky vegan taco bowls. Vietnamese rice soup. Cobb salad (sort of). Stir-fried vegetables with steamed buns (accompanied by many an exclaimed, “Did she really make fresh bao? Quaint!”). All things considered, we ate pretty well! My hubby and I chatted about how there’s probably this food spectrum that 90% of foods can fall on, and it actually kind of seems to hold up- how chicken soup is very similar to chicken stew, which is very similar to chicken and dumplings, which is very similar to chicken pot pie, which is very similar to pork pot pie, which is et cetera pretty much forever, with each item just slightly different than the ones around it, but different enough to be new and interesting.

Turns out, writing can be a lot like that too.

At their most basic, tropes are commonly recurring literary devices in creative works. They usually work outside of the literal meaning of a word or phrase to convey some deeper meaning, at there are lots of kinds of them. Closely related to clichés, tropes are sometimes looked down on, but if done well, they’re not necessarily bad. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find any piece of fiction that didn’t use tropes.

The tropes I’m specifically thinking about today are the kinds that I like to spoof in my Trope Fail comics. Not necessarily irony or metaphor, but the plot conventions and devices that tend to creep into more stories than not given a certain genre. These are more like ‘YA cannot communicate’ or ‘the evil twin’ or ‘the butler did it’ sort of tropes, and are closely related to archetypes (as proposed by Jung), such as the Magician or the Hero.

(Side note: You can take this archetype thing even wider. Some suggest that all stories can be distilled into just a few story archetypes. Author Christopher Booker claims there are just seven, and he makes an argument for it in his book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.)

Some people complain that this prevalence of tropes makes it so that nothing is new anymore- all stories have already been told in one form or another. And maybe in a way, they’re right, just like I didn’t serve anything but beans and rice and veggies to my family all week. But I would argue- and hopefully they would too- that I wasn’t serving the same thing each night, just as new books aren’t rewriting the same seven novels over and over again.

Romeo and Juliet has been retold hundreds of times over the centuries- and was itself a retelling too. Does that make West Side Story just the same old hash? Is Warm Bodies just another repeat? (And how about Daughter of Smoke and Bone? I haven’t read that one yet but I’ve heard it’s R&J too. Those crazy kids are everywhere.)

It’s the spices that makes the difference. The preparation. The minutiae. Star-crossed lovers are nothing new. Heck, they weren’t new in the 1500s (although arguably, marrying for love was). But that same theme looks very different when talking about wealthy Italian kids, or hardscrabble street gangs, or zombies. And this is just scratching the surface. I mean, look at Ryan North’s Romeo and/or Juliet! Things get crazy!

Each author brings something new to the potluck in their treatment of the same tropes. Maybe you think you shouldn’t write that Paleolithic stonepunk thriller ‘cause you’ve already seen a dozen. Maybe you’re worried that your cybernetic mermaids have been done a thousand times. Maybe you don’t think you have anything new to add to the Sherlockian eco-fantasy scene.

Write it anyway- or paint it or record it or whatever. Create. Prepare it in your own special way and make it new. It isn’t our bones that make us who we are. If you have a story that you love rattling around in your head, but you aren’t sure it’s fresh enough, write it anyway. It may surprise you what you can do with just a handful of boring old ingredients and a full spice cabinet at your disposal.

Happy writing!

Editor v. Beta Readers: A Comparison

20180507_093600So I’ve written in the past about manuscript swapping with beta readers and about whether it’s worth it to pay for professional editing. But  for the latter, I had never actually had a professional edit of an entire manuscript, so I was mostly going off what other people had to say on the matter.

But a few months ago, I actually did the thing. I shelled out for a real live professional editor to go over an entire manuscript. As a result, I now feel a liiiiiittle better positioned to talk about professional editing- I mean, one experience isn’t a lot, but it’s more than zero. Since I’ve now had manuscripts edited on both ends of the spectrum, I thought it might be most helpful for you lovely readers if I did a compare-and-contrast of the two.

In a lot of ways, the two experiences felt very similar. In both cases, I selected someone that I thought would be a good fit for the story and who had time to squeeze it into their schedule. I did a final pass on the manuscript and then sent it off and sat in a flaming torment until I got a response. At this point in the game, both of the scenarios felt very similar, except for two differences. One, I was paying for the professional edit, so I was chewing my nails about money, which I tend to do. And two, I didn’t know the editor on a personal level like I tend to know my betas, so I was a little tiny bit uncomfortable sharing a work in its entirety with a stranger. Just a tiny bit. (I guess there was a third difference in that I sent it to one editor and I usually send out to betas in batches, but the wait didn’t feel any more or less torturous for that.)

One thing that professional editing really has going for it is a quick turnaround. The editor gave me a two-week time table. (She had a family emergency come up which knocked it back an extra week, but three weeks is still a fair bit faster than I typically hear from most beta readers.) So if you’re in a hurry, going with a pro might be the better option for you.

Next, already briefly mentioned, is the monies. Professional editing is expensive. It varies a lot from editor to editor and project to project, but it being expensive is especially true if you need a lot of work, have a very long story, need a rush job, etc. This stuff ain’t cheap. Beta reading, on the other hand, is free as far as money goes, although it usually comes with the expectation that you’ll return the favor at some point with your own time and editorial eyes.

I have had a lot of beta readers, and I have had only one professional editor. I can say without reservation that beta reading is a bit of a mixed bag when you’re first starting out. Sometimes you get really good betas that make you wonder why they’re not professional editors themselves. But sometimes you get gushy I-loved-it-it’s-perfect betas that, while a nice pat on the ego, isn’t super helpful to improving your manuscript. And sometimes you get the betas who… don’t… beta at all. (I know things come up, but if you’re just not going to read a thing, you should really let the author know as soon as you do instead of just letting it hang silently in the air for several months.) Most people fall somewhere in between these extremes.

I can’t say any of that for sure about professional editors. And I’ve winnowed my beta team down to a solid team that I trust and they are amazing. That said, I felt like I didn’t get as much out of the professional edit as I typically do from my favorite beta readers. Even if I don’t count all the back-and-forth weirdly-specific-question-and-answer sessions I tend to do with beta readers (Since I didn’t feel comfortable asking for that from a stranger who was expecting to get paid for her time, I didn’t ask much of anything.), I still felt like I got more from my average beta reader than I did from the editor even before I would have moved on to this step. If I’m being completely honest, I was disappointed, and the odds are low that I’ll be making this choice again any time soon.

All of this said, this is one small experience and maybe I just had a bum experience. (I mean, the lady did have a family emergency. It’s possible her mind was just somewhere else at the time- namely a hospital bed.) Lots of people out there swear by their editors, so don’t take my one small experience as the Gospel truth.

Anybody else out there have any experience with professional editors, good or bad? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear about it!

Until next week, happy writing!

Happy 2019!

resolutions*flings confetti* Wahoo!

Another year down and I haven’t managed to overdose on lemon sandwich cookies and kimchi brine yet! *fist pumps* Man, 2018 had a lot of madness and utter rubbish, but here with are with another shiny new year. Let’s not screw this one up, guys!

All things considered, last year wasn’t too embarrassing as far as resolutions go. I got pretty lazy on my health goals, but that’s somewhat to be expected, given how lowly I prioritize my own well being. (Stop that, Jill.) But other than that, things weren’t too shabby.

Numbers-wise, I hit my reading goal, and with a couple extra books besides; I even hit the stipulation that half of them be nonfiction! I did write up two new first drafts (Copper and Box of Bones) but only managed to edit one first draft into a second (Sacrifice); but I knew from about October onward that this would be the case, so I’m trying not to beat myself up about it too much. (Because man have I got excuses for the tail end of this year.) Sadly, I totally faceflopped on my goal to write twelve short stories by writing a grand total of three. *sad trombone* But in a shocking turn of events on the last day of the year, I actually hit the rejections goal! *soccer stadium cheer* I even managed one extra rejection (yay?) for a total of forty-nine.

Honestly, for my writing stuff, I think I’ve about maxed out my productivity in my current stage of life. So I’m pretty much just setting a repeat on last year’s reading, writing, and publishing goals, with just a few minor adjustments.

Once more, I’d like to read twenty-four books, with half of them being nonfiction. This year, I’m planning on leaning a little more heavily toward the editing side of things since I have about a million first drafts lurking around my hard drive; I hope to edit three ugly early drafts (probably Blood and Ebony, Quicksilver Queen, and A Cinder’s Tale, but I’m flexible) and to write one first draft of something new over the course of the three NaNo sessions. I’m also reining back on the short story drafting, just letting those evolve on an as-needed basis without a specific goal in mind. And I’m sticking with my forty-eight rejections for the year goal because, augh it hurts, but it seems to be working for me.

So that’s it! I’ve broken each of these goals down into quarterly, monthly, and daily goals to help keep me ticking along a little more smoothly (and maybe eliminate the need for New Year’s Eve miracles, haha). So I have a plan. Let’s see how badly I wreck it!

How about you guys? Any big writing resolutions? Or little ones? Let me know- I’d love to chat! Happy New Year and happy writing!