Where Were You? Where Are You Now?

It was a Tuesday morning. I was eighteen, a college sophomore. My boyfriend (now husband) and I were in my crappy minivan, which only had a radio for entertainment. We’d tuned into a talk show, and we thought we were hearing some kind of sick joke. As I parked, we realized with complete disbelief—as one talk show host said a second plane had flown into the Twin Towers—that it was absolutely real. 

We were dumbfounded, numb. And since we were already at school, we headed toward our first class, hoping for some sort of clarity from our professor. Unfortunately, she had not been listening to the radio, and since she was running late, she rushed straight into class, never seeing another person before plowing right into the day’s lesson. Maybe she was a little miffed that her class of freshman and sophomores was a bit more subdued than usual, that we stared at her with incomprehension. That we dared to hope that, because the adult with the most authority in the room was proceeding like all was normal, maybe it actually was. The next time our class met, she apologized profusely and said that if she had known, she would have sent us all home.

Instead, we endured that class in a kind of limbo while the rest of the country sat glued to TVs, gathered in small groups, trying to process what was happening. When Thomas and I split up and headed to our next classes, we re-entered the flow of reality. In my class, all the TVs were on the news. Although I don’t remember any other students from that class, I remember the young military wife, tears streaming down her face as she looked at images of the Pentagon under attack, likely terrified for what this meant for her husband. The professor stood to the side, allowing us access to the TVs, explaining that classes were cancelled, but we were welcome to stay if we needed.

The rest of that week passed in a haze. I felt helpless as I watched people in New York searching fruitlessly for loved ones days after the last survivor was found. The one that stands out and still haunts me was a man with a picture of his wife. She was pregnant. That baby would have been an adult now. All that hope stolen from him and his family in a moment.

It’s not every year that I feel moved to share my thoughts and feelings about September 11, 2001, but this year is different. Not a particularly important anniversary year—nineteen—not like next year will be. But still, this is a year in which so much has changed for so many, and not just in our country. Around the world, people’s lives are drastically different than they were a mere six months ago. This is the year when, if something negative happens, you blame it on 2020.

So how does September 11th look this year? Bleaker because we’re already more somber? Or can we eek some glimmer of hope from the day? I am fortunate to know a girl who was born on this date, and while I’ve always felt a bit bad for her, my mindset is starting to shift. What a miracle, to welcome new life on the anniversary of such tragedy!

Recently, my pastor spoke of the human condition, specifically that propensity for humans to never be satisfied with what we have, even (and sometimes especially) when we have more than enough—and he’s right. On the anniversary of a day when so much was taken from us, what do we have left? And particularly on that anniversary in a year when many of us have lost [fill in the blank]—jobs, loved ones, milestones, time with family, normalcy—are we still supposed to be satisfied with what’s left? In my opinion, yes.

I am blessed to have my family, and so far, our health. My husband and I have our jobs, and our children are fortunate to be in schools that are looking after their well-being and their education. We have friends that care about us, even if we can’t see them. We have time together—more time this year than we’ve ever had. There are times when I’ve been bitter, dwelling on those other things that we don’t have, but I am choosing not to focus on those disappointments and lost opportunities.

I also have the capacity to remember, to spend a few moments honoring those who lost so much, to vow again to live with intent and purpose because I am blessed with life. It’s 2020. Anything can happen. Truly, anything can happen no matter what year it is. But this year—today—when I’m so much more cognizant of my mortality, I choose to celebrate being alive one more day in tribute of those who were not given that choice.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It, and I Feel…

Annoyed, to be honest. I admit, part of my annoyance is selfish because next week is our spring break. Thank goodness we’re not big spring break travelers, but I did have quite a few activities planned for our stay-cation, and I don’t know how many of them we’ll actually get to do because people have lost their heads, and everything is closing. My younger son was looking forward to seeing the dinosaur exhibit at our zoo, but now that’s not going to happen. Even some Florida beaches are closed, and although I’m about the last person you’ll ever see on a beach, restricting people from the outdoors, from fresh air and sun, seems like one of the worst ideas to me. (Read about sun therapy here, and thanks to Heather for sharing it to begin with.)

As a planner, I’m always the first to sign up for things, but that one got me hard this week when a race my elder son participates in every year (and placed second in last year) was cancelled. No make-up date, no refunds. I’m grateful I didn’t pre-purchase anything for the upcoming week (mainly because I wasn’t sure when my husband would be able to take off work and join us). Now, if we’re able to do anything, I’ll pay on-site.

I understand closing Disney World for 14 days. That should be enough time to ensure that any possible lingering virus in the air is gone, and when it re-opens, I am sure there will be all kinds of measures in place to ensure guests are virus-free. Likewise, I get postponing events that attract a lot of people and suspending activities like my kids’ baseball practices and games until early April. Sometimes you have to use precautions like these to save people from themselves. But cancelling the rest of the NBA’s season? Couldn’t they just come back in early April like everyone else (after ensuring all players are well) and extend it a couple weeks? May I remind you that the NBA didn’t let Magic Johnson’s HIV diagnosis stop them.

TP-meme1And then there’s the absolute absurdity of the toilet paper shortage. Even though I think over-publicity has to do with much of the pandemonium we’re experiencing, this one even baffled the news anchors on the local new station I watch every morning. “We didn’t say it was that kind of a virus,” one of them said the other day. What idiot decided that this was the hot commodity everyone had to have, and why did the rest of the country buy into it? Hand sanitizer I get—even bleach—but TP? I’m scratching my head over that one and just grateful that I had a coupon a few weeks ago and bought in bulk. If you need toilet paper, skip the crazy, and come to my house; I will be glad to give you some.

I went grocery shopping today, and at my first stop, there was plenty of everything (even a pretty good selection of toilet paper still on the shelves). At the entrance to the store, though, the station with sanitary wipes for grocery cart handles was missing. I waited with a couple other customers while a store employee replaced them. The worker explained that they have to replace the wipes every couple hours because people are pulling out wipe after wipe, storing them in bags, and taking them home. She also said that one woman was in the bathroom, filling a bottle with soap from the store’s soap dispenser, and another was taking toilet paper from the stalls—when there was plenty of toilet paper on the shelves! And this was the best of the four stores I visited. As a writer, I have a kind of morbid fascination with people watching, but the insanity I witnessed today is the precursor to people self-destructing. If something like an actual zombie apocalypse were to ever happen, I fear the level of hysteria would be even worse than what our most far-fetched movies depict.

Which brings me to what really bothers me about this Coronavirus debacle—the impact on our economy. People have made it obvious that they’re willing to steal items that are both cheap and available, but aside from this abhorrent behavior, what about those sole proprietors and small businesses that are losing business because people are now too scared to go about their daily lives (albeit a little more cautiously)? Even with measures put in place to ensure workers are paid when businesses close (like at Disney), some businesses are so small that they can’t afford this. How can a private music teacher, for instance, pay herself when her students have been scared into staying at home?

Our world has suffered worse pandemics. Yes, people traveling and not knowing they had Coronavirus helped it spread globally, but people seem to be forgetting about the regular diseases that are always around and are more contagious and have a higher mortality rate. No one is flipping out about them. The flu has killed—and will continue to kill—people for years, and we’re just like, Stay home. Drink plenty of fluids. For that matter, I’m more worried about leaving my house and getting hit by a drunk driver than being sneezed on by someone who might be sick—and I have an autoimmune disease, people.

You may think I’m not taking this seriously, but I do care. I count the seconds now when I wash my hands—and send my kids back to the bathroom to make sure they do the same. We’re gearing up for at least two weeks at home (after spring break, they’ll be engaged in distance learning because life has to go on), and what that looks like is a little self-discipline to make sure they get their work done, time to play outside because they’ll get tired of being cooped up, more time to actually cook because I won’t be commuting, and six cases of toilet paper because… oh, wait. Never do we ever need six cases of toilet paper at once. You won’t find us locked in a bunker, chewing our fingernails until someone swoops in and tells us it’s safe to come out. As a friend pointed out recently, there are many people who are immunocompromised, and they’ve learned how to live in a world that’s not exactly immuno-friendly. I think we can all take a lesson from them. Wash your hands, folks, and have a little common sense.

TP-meme2

What to Read in 2020…

I am pleased to say (and this doesn’t happen often), that I finished all the books from my 2019 book list. (Just finished the last two yesterday, but finished is finished!) I started grad school in August, and it really derailed my pleasure reading, but I anticipated this when I created my book list; I’d already finished most of my list before then. (I’m also happy to report that, out of all the books I read, only two disappointed, The Circle and The Girl In the Spider’s Web.)

Of the two books that I finished at the last minute, I didn’t even receive Rick Riordan’s The Trials of Apollo Book 4: The Tyrant’s Tomb until Christmas. And by “receive,” I mean that my husband and I each wanted the same books, so rather than each of us buying the same thing for the other, I bought them both, wrapped them, and stuck them under the tree for us. I didn’t even succumb to temptation and start reading before I wrapped them.

The other book that I finished yesterday was the last of the Artemis Fowl series, The Last Guardian. I read this series years ago and thought my pre-teen son would enjoy them. It’s taken a while to get through all eight books, but we enjoyed reading them together. He’s dyslexic and comprehends texts best when they’re read to him. Although he has an app that reads to him, I will continue reading with him as long as he lets me. He’s into World War II right now, so a couple novels on this year’s list are re-reads for me that I’m looking forward to introducing to Peter.

Another series I re-read this year was Harry Potter (the first four books of which I’ve now read 13 times). I read it to Peter when he was in the second grade, so now that Ian is in the second grade, it was his turn. We read the first three books in the Jim Kay illustrated format—they’re gorgeous. I knew that the boys would receive the fourth illustrated one for Christmas and asked Ian if he would like to wait to get it before we read on, but he couldn’t wait that long. Instead, we plowed through books four through seven, finishing before Christmas. His imagination is vivid enough that he had no trouble making it through them. (But we have the illustrated version of The Goblet of Fire now, and it’s spectacular.)

Jim Kay Diagon Alley illustration

Diagon Alley, as illustrated by Jim Kay

 

Following are the novels I read in 2019 (in the order I read them—the ones in red text are the extras that weren’t on the original list):

  1. Shadow Puppets (The Shadow Series #3) by Orson Scott Card
  2. The Burning Maze (The Trials of Apollo #3) by Rick Riordan
  3. Shadow of the Giant (The Shadow Series #4) by Orson Scott Card
  4. Dog Man and Cat Kid (Dog Man #4) by Dav Pilkey
  5. Shadows in Flight (The Shadow Series #5) by Orson Scott Card
  6. Kids of Appetite by David Arnold
  7. The Circle by Dave Eggers
  8. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  9. The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold #1) by Traci Chee
  10. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer
  11. A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
  12. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  13. The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
  14. Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1) by Alwyn Hamilton
  15. Nil (Nil #1) by Lynne Matson
  16. The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1) by S.J. Kincaid
  17. Bird Box by Josh Malerman
  18. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium #1) by Stieg Larsson
  19. The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium #2) by Stieg Larsson
  20. Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer
  21. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Millennium #3) by Stieg Larsson
  22. Refugee by Alan Gratz
  23. The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium #4) by David Lagercrantz
  24. Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
  25. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  26. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
  27. Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer
  28. Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga #4) by Pierce Brown
  29. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  30. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  31. Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer
  32. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
  33. Dark Age (Red Rising Saga #5) by Pierce Brown
  34. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
  35. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  36. The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1) by Alison Goodman
  37. The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the First) by Lemony Snicket
  38. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  39. The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Second) by Lemony Snicket
  40. Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer
  41. The Tyrant’s Tomb (The Trials of Apollo #4) by Rick Riordan

And now for the 2020 list. It may seem long, but all the Unfortunate Events books are ones I’m reading with Ian (after Harry Potter, he’s stuck on series). Otherwise, my list is modest because I know my time will be limited. I’m looking forward to continuing several series and reading some books that are new to me. I also hope I can carve out some time to re-read some favorites.

On the left is the book I just started (it’s really good!)… and another one that I’ll be starting soon. (Yep, more testing awaits. But when I’m done with adding to my certification, I hope to be done with testing centers for a while.) IMG_5745

Without further ado, here’s what I hope to read this year (alpha by author):

  1. Earth Unaware (The First Formic War #1) by Orson Scott Card
  2. Earth Afire (The First Formic War #2) by Orson Scott Card
  3. Earth Awakens (The First Formic War #3) by Orson Scott Card
  4. Graceling (Graceling Realm #1) by Kristin Cashore
  5. Fire (Graceling Realm #2) by Kristin Cashore
  6. Bitterblue (Graceling Realm #3) by Kristin Cashore
  7. Lethal White (Cormoran Strike #4) by Robert Galbraith
  8. The Dark Days Pact (Lady Helen #2) by Alison Goodman
  9. The Dark Days Deceit (Lady Helen #3) by Alison Goodman
  10. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
  11. Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers
  12. Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) by Robin LaFevers
  13. Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin #3) by Robin LaFevers
  14. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  15. The Tower of Nero (The Trials of Apollo #5) by Rick Riordan
  16. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  17. The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Third) by Lemony Snicket
  18. The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Fourth) by Lemony Snicket
  19. The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Fifth) by Lemony Snicket
  20. The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Sixth) by Lemony Snicket
  21. The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Seventh) by Lemony Snicket
  22. The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Eighth) by Lemony Snicket
  23. The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Ninth) by Lemony Snicket
  24. The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Tenth) by Lemony Snicket
  25. The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Eleventh) by Lemony Snicket
  26. The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Twelfth) by Lemony Snicket
  27. The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Thirteenth) by Lemony Snicket
  28. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

What titles are on your list this year? Happy reading!

NaNoWriMo 2019 Recap (Finally)

NaNoWriMo 2019 Winner Banner

I figured that I should probably address what happened during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year before it rolls around again next year—so three-plus week late is better than never, right? My tardiness is an indication of how busy I was in November. And nothing’s going to change for as long as I’m in grad school (so forever, maybe).

My first year, NaNoWriMo 2013, was ridiculously easy; I validated on the 14th of the month. I wrote NaNoWriMo 2014 at more of a normal pace—not really a struggle, although not as easy as the first. The real difficulty was two years ago. I struggled just to validate and then lost my enthusiasm shortly afterward. With my previous four books, I finished each manuscript, even if it took several months. But in 2017, I gave up and decided to start the same novel over again in 2018. I validated on November 29th, but the results were little better than the previous year. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish that book.

Last spring, a scene with characters I’d never before imagined popped into my head. After jotting it down and giving it some thought, I realized it has novel-scope potential. I decided to save it for NaNoWriMo 2019. For the first three days, I kept up with my word count, and all was well. But starting day four… well, let’s just say that there were some days in November when I wrote less than 100 words. All along, I had prepared to catch up Thanksgiving week, when I would be off work and finally have some “free” time.

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving was late this year. If I didn’t finish by that Saturday,  I would fail at NaNoWriMo for the first time in my personal history. And since I am generally only competitive with myself, this was not an option I liked to consider.

Look at how much I had to write in the last week of November by checking out this handy graph from the NaNoWriMo.org website:

NaNoWriMo 2019 Graph Every time I updated my word count, I had a visual that showed me exactly how far behind I was—and how much behinder I’d gotten since the previous day. By the time I got to that last week of November, I knew I had to write almost 5000 words per day in order to win. I really wanted to finished by the 29th, just to make sure, so it was a lot of pressure.

Let’s just say that I didn’t do much homework that week. Which left me extremely behind and staying up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning the following weekend, when my final project was due. But I did validate my novel and finish my project on time. I’m also glad to say that I’m still plugging away at this year’s book. I might actually finish it before NaNoWriMo 2020.

The Scariest Halloween Ever

NaNoWriMo 2019 Writer

Okay, it’s not actually scary because it’s Halloween. It’s scary because tomorrow is November 1st, and I am NOT prepared for NaNoWriMo 2019. Do I know what I’m going to write? Yes. A scene popped into my head in the spring, and I realized that this would be a great story to pursue for this year’s National Novel Writing Month. I even managed to abstain from writing furiously, which is my normal behavior when a brainwave happens. Then again, I’m not sure when I would have had the time.

I started grad school in August. Only one class, folks, and it’s kicking my butt. Not that it’s so difficult, really, just that it’s online, and I never know if what I’m doing is what the professor expects. And then there’s just no time. I haven’t done homework in a week, and I have a really huge project looming. When’s it due? You guessed it: November.

But, I can’t not participate. When I told my husband I’d signed up a few weeks ago, he thought I was crazy. I am. Totally a nutcase. But I do get a whole week off at Thanksgiving, so you’d better believe I’ll use it. You may not hear much (if anything) from me until after then because, between work, two kids, basketball play-offs, piano lessons, play and choir practices, teaching Sunday school, meetings, and trying to find socks that match, for goodness’ sake, I won’t have two spare seconds to rub together.

Good luck to all my writers-in-arms. Next time you see me, I’ll likely have half the normal amount of hair and twice the normal amount of baggage under my eyes.

Sincerely,

The Crazy Person

What’s My Twitter Handle Again?

Twitter for Teachers

I’m doing something I said I would never do: I’m going back to school. Grad school, that is. I can’t make a judgment call yet because I’m at the beginning of this long journey. It’s possible that my second grader will get his Masters degree before I do. But. I started.

I’m taking a course called Literacy and Technology, which I find both fascinating and helpful because tech intimidates me. I am certainly no pioneer, eager to try every new thing put out by Apple or Samsung or Microsoft. Once I get comfortable with a particular technology, platform, or device, I’ll stick with it until it dies or I do.

I understand that I’m admitting to be a paradoxical, Millennial dinosaur. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you may remember that I love physical books—you know, made of this archaic material called paper. But I happen to have a son who is dyslexic, and paper books are a trial for him. This does not mean, however, that he has to hate books. He’s almost 12, but I still read aloud to him, sharing some of my favorite stories that I don’t want him to miss out on. Fortunately, current technology has progressed so that he doesn’t have to put me in his backpack and take me everywhere when he needs to read. As the saying goes, there’s an app for that, and he has a handy one called Learning Ally that can read texts for him, both fiction and non-fiction. And that’s just one example of many that can help people like Peter.

How appropriate that my first class is introducing me to all kinds of tech and new ideas about how to best utilize it in the classroom. This week’s focus: creating educational content via blogs, microblogs, and video. In a time when schools either have some sort of computer device in most classrooms or actually require students to bring their own, this is a hot and often controversial topic. Cyber ethics and safety and online research are normal parts of children’s curriculum now. It’s not just Solitaire and Oregon Trail anymore, which were the main reasons I used computers when I was a tween.

The advantages of creating and using online content are many. If you’re curious about an educational topic, someone else has probably already posted something about it. All you have to do is search. And then comment. Or retweet. Or subscribe and share. Then give it your own personal twist; use it; post the results. The information accumulates, is shared again, and this is the beauty of live content, versus a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica that cost a pile of money in the 1970s and hasn’t been updated since then because of said pile of money.

Instead of debating whether this kind of technology would be allowed at my school, let’s go by the assumption that it would, and I have a classroom of students who are old enough to use blogs, microblogs, and videos. In this scenario, which medium would I prefer, and why? After studying all three methods, my answer today is a little different than it was this time last week.

Going in to this topic, I was very familiar with blogs. I mean, here I am, writing one. And despite being less active this year than I’ve been since starting Full-Time Writer Mom in 2012, I am still most comfortable with this medium. I pride myself on thinking carefully about each topic; that’s why I no longer write weekly. For a while, coming up with a topic felt forced. I decided to only write something when I felt moved to do so. The problem, of course, was that when I got out of the habit, it was easy to make excuses, to continue to not post.

But what if I were able to use this platform in the classroom? I discovered a couple new blogs this week that spoke to the book lover in me, A Mighty Girl and School Library Journal. I am seriously considering going back and re-certifying so I can teach 4th, 5th, or 6th grade language arts (I’m currently only certified through 3rd grade). Not only would these blogs and ones like them be a great resource for me in the classroom, but what if I could expand this blog to help other teachers? This is very appealing to me, something I feel I could do well and with relative ease.

Next: Twitter and microblogging. As the name suggests, microblogging is blogging, but on a tiny scale. And I’ll admit that, although I do have a Twitter account, I never use it. Why? I guess because I’m unfamiliar with it, intimidated. Please refer to when I said that I get comfortable with something and like to stick with it. I’m comfortable with Facebook. Not Instagram, not LinkedIn, not Twitter. I have accounts with them all, but I’m sadly MIA in most. My fault. I know they’re all good resources, so I need to make myself become more familiar, push myself out of my comfort zone. But Twitter specifically really gets me because I’m verbose. If the rule were to keep tweets down to 140 words, I’d still have a problem. But 140 characters?

This is a challenge I need to tackle, and I became convinced of this when I read about English teacher and author Kate Messner and how she got her class involved with Twitter. By creating an account for her class, she was able to have them join in on a conversation about one of the books they were reading with the book’s author and editor. While an argument can be made that social media isolates people, when used correctly, Twitter can connect people who, otherwise, might never meet. While I think it’s cool for the occasional author to comment on one of my reviews on Goodreads, that’s nothing to having a real-time conversation like Messner’s class had. This would have been a dream come true when I was a kid. (Okay, it still is. I really need to get busy on Twitter.)

The last medium, video, is the one with which I am least comfortable, although I certainly appreciate its uses. My children have a few people they follow on YouTube, mainly adult gamers who play Minecraft or Roblox (MC Naveed and Pat and Jen are the biggies). My seven-year-old has learned how to create some amazing structures on Minecraft just from watching their videos. Are they entertaining? Undoubtedly. Do they also happen to be instructional? Actually, yes. I think a downside is, however, there’s so much inappropriate video content out there. Sometimes Ian will be in the middle of watching someone build something (not from the two mentioned above), and then a swear word comes out. And Mom Police immediately shuts it down.

Still, could I preview content and share what I deem appropriate in the classroom? I could, as well as use it for professional development. But could I create my own YouTube channel, my own content? Well… that’s where I’m unsure. I can do live videos on Facebook within a closed group, where my audience is small, familiar. Do I want to put myself out there, have my face on everything I produce? Because that’s what I see whenever I view someone else’s YouTube channel: faces. It seems kind of narcissistic. I know this bias shouldn’t make me leery of this medium, but it does. For now, let’s just say that I am more willing to be a consumer than a producer. But do I dare say “never”? Well, look at what happened when I said I wouldn’t ever go back to school…

Hunkerin’

hurricane-dorian-1.jpg

Dorian, where are you?

I got married in what I call the Year of the Hurricane (2004). Within a few weeks that fall, four hurricanes hit Florida, devastating mainly the central corridor of our state. Where I live, we were lucky to be tucked away in a spot that rarely receives a direct hit. Still, we received wind and rains from the outer bands of those storms, resulting in loss of power for days on end. How did we fare? Pretty well. In our early 20s, Thomas and I weren’t concerned about water bottles or extra batteries. We had everything we needed in our tiny apartment: doughnuts, pizza, sodas, candles, and Scrabble. We played endless games of the latter until we decided it might be nice to have A/C and a warm shower and relocated to his parents’ house, where they never lost power.

Fast forward to the last few years. My kids think that hurricane days are an adventure, but talks of school closing put me on edge. As someone who works at said school, I know that days off don’t come for free. And then there was the time that the kids and I actually evacuated. The way Hurricane Matthew’s track looked, we thought we would get a direct hit. We pulled all our pictures off the walls and put valuables on top of our beds in case the house flooded. The boys and I headed to central Florida, where it was sunny and hot, while Thomas had to stay put, due to his job. He had everything staged for if he had to abandon the house and head for a shelter, but the worst thing that happened was that A/C unit outside flooded, so he went without air for a couple days.

Thank goodness for modern technology that (usually) lets us know when major weather events will happen. But that still doesn’t remove nature’s unpredictability factor. A few months after Hurricane Matthew, a microburst struck our side of town out of nowhere. Listening to wind and hail beat all four sides of the house, I thought it was a tornado. Thomas was just down the street at the time, and a tree fell right in front of his car. When I left for work the next morning, our neighborhood looked like a war zone. Every house had lost at least a portion of fence, not to mention trees and large limbs.

Hurricane Dorian 2For Dorian, we never considered evacuating, but we did prepare for our neighborhood to flood and for an extended power outage. A hard rain can back up our storm drains, and our power has been known to go out when it’s not even raining. But it hasn’t flickered once, and today there was hardly any wind and just light, drizzly rain. We cancelled our Labor Day weekend vacation and stayed in town, and… nothing happened. At least not here. I feel for the people of the Bahamas, and I’ve since heard that cruise ship lines are responding with aid to those devastated by this slow-moving storm.

I started grad school (online) last week, and with that added activity, I now have at least one obligation every weeknight (and sometimes I’m double-booked). But since last Friday, my schedule has been clear. So what have we done? Thomas and I taught the boys how to play Scrabble. Our back patio got a top-to-bottom cleaning. And we’ve read. A lot. When I realized that we would have so many days at home—and there’s no guarantee I’ll get such dedicated reading time again for a while—I decided that the boys and I would finish the books we’re reading together, and I would try to finish my own novel, as well.

One of the greatest joys of being a mom is sharing my favorite books with my kids. Over a year ago, I started on the Artemis Fowl series with Peter. We’ve had to take breaks to fit in required reading for school, but we’re now just a few pages away from finishing The Time Paradox, the sixth of this eight-book series. I was determined that we’d finish the series before the end of the year when I wrote this year’s book list (read that post here). After that, I want to pull out some of my favorite historical fiction; Peter’s begun to take an interest in World War II.

Ian and I started reading Harry Potter just before the school year started. He’s in the Harry Pottersecond grade, and that’s when I read them to Peter. These are the first longer chapter books Ian’s read, and I worried that they might bore him; after all, he’s my ADHD kid who could never sit still for me to read to him when he was a baby. It does help that we have the beautifully illustrated Jim Kay versions (for the first three books), but even on the pages without illustrations, Ian is rapt. Many times, he’s asked me to read just a few more pages, or he’s carried the giant book to me, singing the Harry Potter movie theme. I feel like I’ve done something right because he told me a few days ago that he thinks the books are better than the movies because they made more effort with the books.

I feel guilty for getting so much time off when there was absolutely no reason for it. But how can you know? Not to mention that there are many people in my area who live in flood zones and aren’t as lucky. So the whole community has to abide by this schedule (and pray we don’t succumb to cabin fever). So I’m off now to read another chapter or two. Four books to go until I finish my 2019 book list!

Hurricane Dorian 3

 

Meet the New List, Same As the Old List

Welp, it’s another year, and as you may have guessed, I come bearing lots of excuses for why I didn’t finish all my books from the 2018 book list. At a quick glance, it looks like I read all my books plus some, but see below for a quick comparison.

Here are the books I set out to read in 2018, alpha by author (for the full post, click here):

  1. Mosquitoland by David Arnold
  2. Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo
  3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  4. Passenger (Passenger #1) by Alexandra Bracken
  5. Golden Son (Red Rising Saga #2) by Pierce Brown
  6. Morning Star (Red Rising Saga #3) by Pierce Brown
  7. Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga #4) by Pierce Brown
  8. Ender’s Shadow (The Shadow Series #1) by Orson Scott Card
  9. Shadow of the Hegemon (The Shadow Series #2) by Orson Scott Card
  10. Shadow Puppets (The Shadow Series #3) by Orson Scott Card
  11. Shadow of the Giant (The Shadow Series #4) by Orson Scott Card
  12. Shadows in Flight (The Shadow Series #5) by Orson Scott Card
  13. The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold #1) by Traci Chee
  14. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  15. The Circle by Dave Eggers
  16. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  17. Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1) by Alwyn Hamilton
  18. The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1) by S.J. Kincaid
  19. The Ugly Truth (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #5) by Jeff Kinney
  20. The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium #4) by David Lagercrantz
  21. Nil (Nil #1) by Lynne Matson
  22. The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
  23. A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
  24. The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan
  25. The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Book III) by Rick Riordan
  26. Carve the Mark (Carve the Mark #1) by Victoria Roth
  27. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
  28. The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
  29. Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity #2) by Victoria Schwab
  30. The Crown’s Fate (The Crown’s Game #2) by Evelyn Skye
  31. A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3) by Sabaa Tahir

And now for the books I actually read (in the order I read them, squeezing in one last title during the last four days of the year):

  1. The Ugly Truth (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #5) by Jeff Kinney
  2. Golden Son (Red RisingSaga #2) by Pierce Brown
  3. Morning Star (Red Rising Saga #3) by Pierce Brown
  4. Blackwater Swamp by Bill Wallace
  5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
  6. Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga #4) by Pierce Brown
  7. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
  8. The Crown’s Fate (The Crown’s Game #2) by Evelyn Skye
  9. Mosquitoland by David Arnold
  10. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
  11. Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity #2) by Victoria Schwab
  12. Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo
  13. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  14. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
  15. Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo
  16. An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir
  17. A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2) by Sabaa Tahir
  18. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
  19. A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3) by Sabaa Tahir
  20. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  21. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  22. The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
  23. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  24. Passenger (Passenger #1) by Alexandra Bracken
  25. Carve the Mark (Carve the Mark #1) by Victoria Roth
  26. Wayfarer (Passenger #2) by Alexandra Bracken
  27. Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident by Eoin Colfer
  28. The Fates Divide (Carve the Mark #2) by Veronica Roth
  29. Ender’s Shadow (The Shadow Series #1) by Orson Scott Card
  30. Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code by Eoin Colfer
  31. The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Book III) by Rick Riordan
  32. Shadow of the Hegemon (The Shadow Series #2) by Orson Scott Card
  33. The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan

Nine of the above titles are books that I read with my elder son, who is dyslexic. Although it’s a chore for him to read, and I wish he could do more of this on his own, I do love that we still read together. We started the Artemis Fowl series, which my husband and I both love, and I hope to finish it with him this year, but there’s always the chance that we’ll get sidetracked by other books he has to read for school, and that’s okay.

Of the five other titles that weren’t on the original list, two were books that I had to re-read in order for me to get to the next book in the series (which was on the list), and the other three were sequels. Hey, it happens (and will probably happen this year, too).

So of the 33 books that I read, only 19 of them were actually from the original list. I’m carrying 12 over into 2019. I know that the chances of finishing this year’s list is slim, even though it’s not a particularly ambitious one. I just know me, and I know that there will be days when I’m lucky to read five pages.

Also, unlike all previous years, I don’t have a picture of piles of new books that I’m looking forward to reading. In fact, I didn’t receive a single book for Christmas (a first), but I did receive a generous gift card to Barnes & Noble from a loved one who knows I love to read. So here’s what I bought for myself:

Christmas Books 2018

I know, I know—GRE for Dummies. Super entertaining, right? That’s a large part of what’s going to occupy my time in 2019. I take the test later this month, and from there, it’s grad school applications. I must be a crazy person. But at least I got one new book and a cool Stranger Things bookmark. And I’ve ordered/pre-ordered several other books (listed below) that weren’t available in-store. Instead of assigning myself piles of books, I hope to thoroughly enjoy what I do read this year. And if (big if) I do get through all these, there are always titles I’ve read in the past that I would love to revisit.

Here is 2019’s list:

  1. Kids of Appetite by David Arnold
  2. Dark Age (Red Rising Saga #5) by Pierce Brown
  3. Shadow Puppets (The Shadow Series #3) by Orson Scott Card
  4. Shadow of the Giant (The Shadow Series #4) by Orson Scott Card
  5. Shadows in Flight (The Shadow Series #5) by Orson Scott Card
  6. The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold #1) by Traci Chee
  7. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer
  8. Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer
  9. Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer
  10. Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer
  11. Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer
  12. The Circle by Dave Eggers
  13. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  14. Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1) by Alwyn Hamilton
  15. The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1) by S.J. Kincaid
  16. The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium #4) by David Lagercrantz
  17. Bird Box by Josh Malerman
  18. Nil (Nil #1) by Lynne Matson
  19. The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
  20. A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
  21. The Burning Maze (The Trials of Apollo #3) by Rick Riordan
  22. The Tyrant’s Tomb (The Trials of Apollo #4) by Rick Riordan
  23. Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
  24. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

I hope you have a wonderful 2019, full of only pleasant surprises and lots of good reading!

Last Minute Writing Tips

NaNoWriMo 2018 Winner BannerI think this is the first November since I started NaNoWriMo in 2013 in which I didn’t update my novel’s progress at some point between its start and validation. I was so behind on my word count for so long that I didn’t dare do any other writing project—even a short blog to update my (lack of) progress—for fear of stealing precious time from 2018’s novel.

Just to give you a literal picture of how sad this situation was, take a look at my stats graph from nanowrimo.org:

Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 1.29.27 PM

I think the worst was the day when I only typed 298 words. And there were too many other days when I typed well under 1000. In case you’ve stumbled across my blog, and this is the first time you’ve ever heard of this NaNo business, to “win” at National Novel Writing Month, you need to write a 50,000-word novel that you don’t start until November 1st and that you finish on the 30th. (And by finish, I just mean write 50,000 words. I have not ever actually completed a novel in the month of November.) That means 1667 words per day, if you don’t want to drown in a sea of unwritten words.

I could point to plenty of reasons why I had a hard time keeping up. The day when I only wrote 298 words was a Monday, the day of the week when I have zero free time. After working a full day, I’m usually eating dinner while walking around the kitchen, making sure one kid does his homework and the other practices piano—and then I run out to a choir rehearsal that takes up the rest of the night, then straight to bed with my alarm set for 4:30 am. I’m the type of person who takes personal goals seriously, so unless I die, I’m not going to sign up for NaNoWriMo and then fizzle out. Fortunately, I knew that I would be off during Thanksgiving week, and guess what? That’s when my daily word count started to go up.

If you’re in the same boat, I’m sorry to say that you only have a couple days to catch up, but I do have three tips that I used this year that really helped me. (If I’d done these in previous years, maybe I would have finished sooner and with a lot less stress.)

1. Let it be messy.

Back during NaNoWriMo 2016, I was really excited about my novel because I’d had this story bouncing around my head since the previous NaNo (when I was already committed to writing the third book of a trilogy). I had scenes already planned and ready to pour from my fingers to the page. But then I got stuck on Day 1 because I didn’t know how to start the dang thing. I must have typed ten different beginnings, only to erase them (big mistake—see #3) and try again… and again… and…

Let’s get real for a minute. While publishing houses and marketing people care very much about the opening of your book—if it isn’t any good, the reader will just put it down and go for something else, right?—you’re nowhere near publication ready when you get done with NaNoWriMo. I mean, that would be like giving birth, changing a few diapers, saying, “I think he’s got this,” and shoving your newborn out into the world to fend for himself. Who does that? (Terrible people and bad writers, that’s who.)

There’s nothing wrong with a cold open. You can come back and make it Pulitzer-worthy later. (Say, after you have 50,000 words down.) Or maybe if you get stuck transitioning from one scene to another, just write a note in the manuscript (“Something amazing happens between flight school and when Jack saves Flight 132!”), and move on to the next part you do know. There’s this thing called the editing process, and I find that a lot of magic happens then. Which leads to point two…

2. Write everything, including the kitchen sink.

I’m a perfectionist. Point #1 is hard for me. And even harder is this one. I want my writing to be meaningful, certainly not fluff or garbage. But guess what, Mama ain’t got time to mess around with getting the story perfect when there are 10,000 words left to type, and the clock’s ticking!

I found myself writing absolute rubbish that I hope never sees the light of day just to keep the story moving—and to keep that word count moving up. Once I made the decision, sitting down to write became a whole lot less daunting because I knew that, come revision time, all this mess would be gone. And who knows? When you’re writing anything and everything semi-stream-of-consciousness style, something brilliant might just pop out, which might have been stifled if you’d been more careful, more discerning, with your output.

What do I mean by writing everything? Well, if your character is a baker, explain the entire process of baking a cake. Maybe tell about his favorite pans and where he bought them (on sale for 30% off). See all those extra words? They count! If you character is sick, explain every gory detail (you know, the ones your grandma tells you, and you wish you could be anywhere else). Explain the disgusting diaper, the allergic reaction, the thousand-step process to assembling the bed from IKEA. Do whatever you have to do to keep the story moving (and you might actually solve a transition scene problem while you’re at it).

3. DON’T DELETE!

Okay, if you see a typo that’s bugging you, fix it. What I’m talking about here is the big stuff, such as an entire scene that you realize, after it’s had time to marinate, is actually not at all the direction your story needs to take. So move on; start a new paragraph, and rewrite it.

That’s exactly what happened to me a few days ago. I realized that if I deleted the scene I’d been so careful to write (kitchen sink and all), I would lose about 1000 words that I desperately needed. I thought about ways I could salvage the scene. Maybe the character would start to do this but then change her mind… and when I tried that, I was able to save about a third of it. Still, that was too much writing to sacrifice. So I highlighted the paragraphs I no longer wanted, changed the font to red so that I would know this is the bad section, and I continued the scene down the new path. I never lost a single word, and now my story is going in the right direction again. I wish I’d thought of this back in 2016!

Bonus tip: don’t give up! You still have time (and the 30th is on a Friday this year, which I think will help a lot of people). Good luck, friends who are still in the trenches. I’ll see you after you’ve won your battle.

What Happened to NaNoWriMo 2017?

Keep Calm and Write On

Who cares about NaNoWriMo 2017 when NaNoWriMo 2018 is right around the corner? Well, usually I update my progress on the previous year’s NaNoWriMo at least a couple times before I even start thinking about the next one. But this year is different.

Yes, I did technically “win” in 2017, writing 50,000 words on a new novel during the month of November. It was the toughest yet, and every year is harder than the last, so that makes 2018 look kind of grim.

While, for all my previous NaNos, I continued writing my novel until the entire book was done (which took more than one month and 50,000 words), I never finished writing 2017’s novel. Part of it was because I focused on editing four other novels almost as soon as I achieved the necessary word-count. But the bigger issue was that my inspiration simply dried up. All my wonderful ideas lost their luster, and the story lost its direction. And honestly, for a couple months, I didn’t even think about it.

With the next NaNoWriMo looming, I had two problems. The first, of course, was that I’d left the last novel unfinished. Unacceptable. And the second problem was that I had absolutely no idea what to write this November.

Then, for some reason, NaNoWriMo 2017 started plaguing me. I don’t mean that I was overwhelmed with guilt for not finishing it. Rather, its characters started reminding me of their existence at a time that wasn’t exactly convenient. They developed the oh-so-annoying trait of taking on lives of their own—when I wasn’t even writing! This one guy won’t stay despicable; he’s actually gaining dimension. Backstories are coming to the front.

This, I realized, could be a two-part solution. By life “interfering” and allowing me some space, my book developed in a way it couldn’t have if I’d insisted on plugging away at it. I hadn’t given up; I’d let it simmer. And now, I know exactly what I’m going to write this year.

Yes, a lot of the novel is largely written, but I have the feeling that much of it is going to end up consigned to the editing room floor. What I do write this year is going to be original or reconstructed from memory only. If I look at last year’s manuscript at all, it will only be to story-line check—no copying and pasting, I promise. I will start November at zero words, and I’m determined to end with 50,000. And once I’ve reached that goal, I will allow myself to merge the two novels, if still applicable.

Don’t let a novel that seems to have failed get you down. Stay creative, friends.