Another Project Bites the Dust

 

The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to ...

Getting ready for NaNoWriMo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This past week was the big deadline: after June 30th, the CreateSpace coupon code for two free copies of my NaNoWriMo novel would expire. As a perfectionist, I found it difficult to call my novel good enough. But then I realized that not only had a written a novel – from scratch – in just a few months, but I had also fully revised it a couple times. That’s a record for me – and quite an accomplishment, considering I’m so picky.

Now, if you’re reading this and wondering, What in the world is she talking about? What is NaNoWriMo?, I will tell you. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) comes around every November. Why November? I don’t know. You can read more at nanowrimo.org. All I know is that it’s awesome. And it’s also for crazy people. Like me. Even some really successful novelists participate in NaNoWriMo. Like Sara Gruen, who wrote Water for Elephants, and Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus.

While brainstorming my last blog of October – the one in which I would list all the reasons why my sorry butt wouldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo, yet again – I had an idea of novel-sized proportions. So I figured, What the heck? I just had a couple days to wait, so I held off until November first, then started writing like… what did I say earlier? Oh yeah – a crazy person.

A novel, as defined by NaNoWriMo, is 50,000 words. I wrote over 80,000 in November, so I “won,” but I wasn’t finished with the book. I kept at it until I finally finished in early February. Then I sat back and let it rest for a month – something Stephen King recommends (maybe I read it in On Writing – can’t remember).

When the month-long waiting period was over, it was time to start editing. I usually enjoy editing just as much as writing. Sometimes it’s the joy of discovering a detail I forgot I wrote. Sometimes I realize I really screwed something up, and I feel liked I’ve accomplished something after I fix it. And I always, always try to cut extraneous words and make the manuscript as clean as possible.

Now, I know this will sound gross, but the first draft is kind of like diarrhea of the pen (or keyboard, whatever). Many – way too many – writers leave their first drafts pretty much alone, so consider how awful it is for editors to read diarrhea-on-the-page. One of the goals of NaNoWriMo is to just plow straight through, so there’s going to be lots of crap. It’s necessary if you’re going to write so much in such a short time. But if you want to have a chance of the success that Sara Gruen, Erin Morgenstern, and authors like them have enjoyed, you have to return to that original draft and pull out your ax. After all the useless words are cut, you pull out your chisel and try to make the story as close to its intended shape as possible.

One great goal to help achieve this is another that Stephen King recommends (which I read in the same place as “wait  a month”): he says to cut the manuscript by 10%. I have tried this with other novels and short stories – always to no avail. If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m wordy. I mean, I almost always break the blogs-should-only-be-500-words rule. And I had new scenes that I wanted to add to my book. How in the world would I cut a 148,000-word book down to a little over 133,000? (A double-spaced page in a word processing program has 250 to 300 words, so that’s like cutting 50 to 60 pages.)

My mom's amazing cover art.

My mom’s amazing cover art.

But I did. And for once in my writing life, I surpassed my goal. A couple days before the deadline, I trimmed it to just over 129,000. I even managed to design a cover. I got the basic outline done, told my mom (who is an amazing artist) what I really wanted, and then she waved her magic wand, and BOOM! Cover, done. It’s wonderful having a talented mom.

I sell my children’s book through CreateSpace (shameless plug – buy it here!), so I knew I needed to submit my story one day early to make it through the reviewing process. Hero is an illustrated book, so I had to submit it as a PDF. Like a dummy, I assumed my novel needed to be a PDF, as well. It was only after I submitted it that I saw they would also accept .doc or .docx.

Sure enough, the morning of the 30th, I saw that they had rejected the PDF – it cut off all my pages numbers. So I resubmitted it as a .doc, then waited. And waited. I went to sleep and set my alarm to wake me a few minutes before midnight, so I could still order my copies before my coupon code expired. But at midnight, July first, my book still wasn’t approved.

Grr. By the time I woke up the next morning, the book was approved. Isn’t that how it always goes? Part of me felt like giving up and continuing to edit my book to supposed perfection. But I’m enough of a realist to know that that will never happen. The whole reason I even considered sending it to CreateSpace to begin with was because of the two free copies, but I was already planning on buying a few more. They’re not expensive, and I wanted to have something nice to give my beta readers. So I went ahead and ordered them anyway.

My books should arrive early next week. I am both excited and nervous. If you had told me this time last year that I would have a sudden brainwave and write an entire novel in just over three months – and edit it and print it for its first critique-ers within eight months – I would have thought you were nuts. I had no idea that I would love NaNoWriMo. Even though I had to write ridiculous amounts every day, it wasn’t a chore. Maybe it’s just that serendipitous magic of the right story coming to me at the right time. As is my goal every time I write fiction, I created the story that I wanted to read. My only hope that my beta readers agree and won’t give a unanimous, What was she thinking? This is terrible!

Either way, my third big project of this year is done. I’m currently living in a bit of a fiction-writing vacuum. Yes, I still have plenty to do. But at night, when the kids are in bed and I’d usually be revising, I sit around and think, What do I do now? It’s hard to adjust back to a normal life, whatever that is.

There is, however, one consolation. I know that when my beta readers get done – even if their comments are miraculously positive – I’ll have my work cut out for me again. And I look forward to that day.

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Author

You can’t blame a writer for what the characters say.

                                                                                                                                             –Truman Capote

 

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy (Photo credit: Darlene Acero)

 

Avid readers, do you remember a time when you discovered a new writer, fell in love with one book, then went crazy looking for all of his or her other publications?

This has happened a number of times with me, from my early days of reading with authors like Beverly Cleary and Louisa May Alcott, then ramping up to Agatha Christie, J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael Crichton, and then Stephen King. In every case, I devoured their books, as many as I could get my hands on.

But sometimes… sometimes this doesn’t happen. Sure, every prolific author has an off-book or two. Even in the middle of bestseller series, it’s not uncommon to have a middle-of-the-road slump. (Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix comes to mind.)

Sometimes, it’s no fault of the author’s, though, because they get pigeonholed. They commit the unforgivable sin of writing outside of one particular genre and so get panned by masses of once-adoring fans.

This often happens with actors. Think about how many of them, in the effort to avoid being typecast, take on just about any role they’re offered to prove they can do something other than what originally made them famous. You might be disillusioned when your favorite child actor tries to show she’s all grown up by portraying a risqué character.

Now, authors aren’t going around in the nude to prove that they’re all grown up. But sometimes we treat them as if they’re doing just that. If you find out that your favorite children’s author has an adult title coming out soon, don’t be shocked that it’s not all “See Dick and Jane” anymore. Dick and Jane might be doing something that you don’t want your children to read about. And that’s fine. Writing for children doesn’t mean they have nothing else to offer the writing world.

The opposite it true for authors such as Stephen King. Many people shy away from him because he’s known primarily as an author of “horror” stories. But I’ve found that he actually writes much more fantasy and suspense than horror, not to mention moving love stories, at least one hard-boiled mystery, and one of the best non-fiction books on the craft of writing that I’ve ever read. (Check it out here.)

Truman Capote was right: we can’t blame writers for what their characters say and do. There is a certain amount of censoring that automatically happens if your story is meant for younger audiences, but the truth must always prevail. As Stephen R. Donaldson writes about the creative process:

[N]one of us can explain how it works. In a sense, writers don’t get ideas: ideas get writers. They happen to us. If we don’t submit to their power, we lose them; so by trying to control or censor them we can make the negative choice of encouraging them to leave us alone.

I don’t know about you, but it sounds very unattractive to tick off my muse by not letting the story be the story. I recently posted about striking gold with a story idea for this year’s NaNoWriMo. When this idea first occurred, I assumed that it would be another young adult novel. After all, the main characters are teenagers, and most of my stories end up going the middle grade or young adult route.

Yet the more I’ve thought about this new premise, I’ve realized that my novel might actually be for adults. That’s not to say that young adults wouldn’t ever read it – after all, I started reading Stephen King when I was 14 – but the amount of censoring I’d have to do to make it appropriate would change the intent and tone of the story. I suppose I could make it work, but would that be right?

This reminds me of a book I read recently, The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. Oh, you’ve heard of her? Yeah, she wrote that itty bitty Harry Potter series that a few people around the world seem to like.

Okay, if you know me, you know that I’m a Harry Potter nut. I bought The Casual Vacancy, which Rowling published as an adult novel, with no illusions of it containing wand-wielding teenage wizards. In the early pages, I sometimes scratched my head over this being the same author of the seven books I so dearly love. True, there are teenagers in her new book, but they’re facing very real temptations and demons, not the fantastical kind. The language, the grittiness was sometimes hard to reconcile with my previous experience of this author.

But knowing how hard it is to force a story into a genre that it’s not, I had an easier time – making my preconceived notions of Rowling disappear into the background – than many other readers who gave up on the book when they discovered it’s not about adult wizards. Rowling still has her fingerprints all over it, but in the form of turns of phrase, descriptions, and little gems that claim her no matter what the genre.

As much as I love most things young adult and fantasy, what I love above all are characters that come to life on the page and stories that pull me in. When I allowed the story to take over, it both compelled and moved me. It took a lot of courage for Rowling to put herself out there and publish something so different than the series that made her a household name. I know of people she’s upset because they expected more of the same, but I admire her for letting the story take the lead.

If you’re an author wrestling with a story unlike anything you’ve ever written, here’s some great advice from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: “[S]ome days it feels like you just have to keep getting out of your own way so that whatever it is that wants to be written can use you to write it.”

Getting out of your own way means ditching those preconceived notions about what you can and should write. Let the story tell itself – at least in the first draft – and you can figure out what’s still appropriate to keep in the revision process.

And if you’re a reader who tends to pigeonhole, open your mind a little bit. Realize that the best authors, the ones that convey the truth through pages and pages of lies, are simply doing what Stephen R. Donaldson wrote about: they’re allowing the creative process to work as it should. To censor it, to hold back, would be to lie in the worst possible way.

For writers to deny themselves the chance to branch out into other genres and interests is to deny growth within the craft, to deny them doing what they’re meant to do.

Writers don’t just love to write – they must. Lamott also says:

We write to expose the unexposed. If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. Otherwise, you’ll just be rearranging furniture in rooms you’ve already been in. Most human beings are dedicated to keeping that one door shut. But the writer’s job is to see what’s behind it, to see the bleak unspeakable stuff, and to turn the unspeakable into words—not just any words but if we can, into rhythm and blues.

Amen? Amen.

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Why Can’t I Take a Vacation from Writing?

I love my vacations. I love the flurry of packing and cleaning and setting everything in order to be gone for a while… and then leaving. Then, while on vacation, people look at me like I’m crazy while I type away on my laptop. No, I’m not getting caught up on a client’s work. In fact, I’m not guaranteed to ever make one penny on what I’m writing. So why in the world am I doing it?

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Typing Away (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For non-writers, understand that it’s not as simple as putting away the typewriter or laptop or fountain pen – whatever your writing implement of choice.

Remember when Stephen King said he was going to retire? This was well over ten years ago. I wondered how serious he was at the time: I certainly couldn’t imagine having a successful novel-publishing career and just giving it up.

In fact, King didn’t say he was going to quit writing at all, just that he thought he was almost done publishing. If you’ve read any Stephen King novels published since 2002, you’ll see that he’s apparently still not done. But even if he were to never publish another novel, I can’t imagine that he would quit writing. How many other professionals could do the same?

Consider people who have careers in the military or law enforcement, medical practitioners or pharmacists, teachers or professors – really, I could go on all day. Most professions are finis at retirement. You walk out the door, and you don’t come back. And until then, you take vacations, leaving all work behind for abbreviated periods of time.

But as with Stephen King, we writers have a somewhat different situation. While it’s absolutely appropriate to take a vacation from client work for a week or two, maybe even “retire” from the public scene, I never just leave my laptop at home or put my stories on the back burner.

My stories aren’t just going to take a vacation because I’m out of town. In fact, my NaNoWriMo novel, which I’m currently editing, woke me up early this morning, filling my head with new ideas. Sure, I could ignore them, try to recall them all in a couple weeks, but I’d likely forget them before then, not to mention that it would make me miserable to not work on my novel. In fact, I don’t even know if “work” is the appropriate word. Sure, I’ve spent a lot of time on it, but writing is a vacation in itself.

That’s not to say that I’m going to write to the exclusion of my family and our vacation plans. I’ll soak up the new experiences, laugh a lot, and sleep too little. But I will also take advantage of the time away to squeeze in as much extra writing as I can because I love it.

And, God willing, I hope to type away past retirement age and die with my fingers poised over the keyboard.

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The Surprise Lurking in My Playlist

IPod Nano

IPod Nano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve talked about the different forms of inspiration before (and it applies to me specifically as a writer, but I’m sure it applies to other forms of art as well), and today I especially want to focus on music.

I’m a musical person from a musical family (read more about that here and here), but it wasn’t until this past week that I was reminded again of how much it can influence my writing.

Back when I used to have a fantastical picture of what a full-time writing life would look like, I figured that my house would come equipped with a separate office just for me and all my journals and manuscripts, a computer dedicated to my writing, and of course a custom sound system, through which I could pipe Metallica while I wrote. Yes, Metallica.

I was thrilled one day when I read that Stephen King, my favorite American author at that time, listened to Metallica (among other groups) while he wrote. Of course, I thought that this was prophetic and pointed to the life that I would surely lead.

Fast forward twelve or thirteen years, and there’s no separate office. I type with my MacBook in my lap while my kids watch Disney and vie for my attention. So this certainly doesn’t allow me the seclusion necessary to listen to whatever I want at any volume.

I still do like Metallica, though, so that’s something.

Still, when I write, it’s not in the environment that I figured was conducive to creating brilliance. I’ve learned to adapt, and I actually embrace writing in the midst of chaos, but there are those times that I realize there’s something to at least a part of that idealistic setting – the music.

Years ago, while I was in the thick of writing one of the books in my middle grade series, I was driving along, listening to just another song on the latest CD my husband and I had bought. I did not at all expect the scene that suddenly popped into my head, evoked by that particular song.

Part of it had to do with the lyrics, which described what happened in the scene, but there’s also something about the tune. That combination brought this scene fully-formed into my mind. I saw one of my characters going through something that wrenched my heart. I didn’t want it to happen to him. I fought it with all my might, but every time I heard the song, the scene returned. My conclusion: it belonged in my book.

Now, there are other songs that I like because they energize me or put me in a calm mood for a scene that needs a little more finesse. But I can never predict when a song will give me a missing piece of my story puzzle.

It happened again this week. I was driving along, listening to the playlist that my husband put together for me, so it has a quite a few songs that I never would have thought to pick for myself. I suppose that’s why it was so unexpected.

Instead of the music just washing over me, as it had with the last few songs I’d listened to, I suddenly started listening to the lyrics, and the words immediately created a new scene, one I certainly never considered when I formed the loose plot of my series.

This is why I think it’s so important to allow myself freedom within my plot. Sure, I have a rough outline, since I do need to make sure that I introduce important clues at the right time and have a general idea of where the story is going. But I was surprised that, yet again, a key character was facing something unexpected, something I don’t think I ever would have come up with on my own.

Thank you, song, for both disturbing me and enriching my story. It actually kept me up for about an hour-and-a-half that night, as I tried to figure out where my story was going. And I realized that it made perfect sense; it allowed another of my characters to realize her full potential in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if I’d gone according to plan.

Have you experienced any storyline surprises, inspired by something that you thought was completely unrelated? You just never know when it will happen or what will bring it on, but I think that writers live for those moments.

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The Risk of Not Taking Risks

Writing journal

Writing journal (Photo credit: avrdreamer)

Last week I wrote about letting go and allowing your characters to take the wheel, and I’d like to expand on that this week.

You see, I understand the problem with giving control to someone else. It’s why my dad and husband both hate being in the passenger seat: when you’re not the one driving, there’s a whole trust and safety issue.

Now, the driving analogy can only go so far (and I don’t like driving, anyway). After all, while it would be foolish to let a thirteen-year-old take the wheel, your story’s thirteen-year-old character could do wondrous and unimaginable things if you let him loose on the page.

But characters of all ages and types – even the ones that may, at first glance, seem quite ordinary, even boring, have the chance of surprising us, if only we let them. Or for stories that aren’t as character-driven, maybe it’s the story itself that takes over and twists in unexpected ways.

But it’s scary to let go, I’ll be the first to admit.

Like so many other good students of composition and the tried-and-true formula college paper, I swallowed all that stuff about a beginning, middle, and end. I was really good at it, too. I often joke that I majored in writing papers, but it’s sadly true. I could write and edit like nobody’s business, and I was especially good at figuring out what my professors wanted to read and tailoring my papers to whatever persuasion was necessary to get me an A. Selling out? I suppose so. But it got me out quickly and unscathed, so I could get down to the serious work that I had little time for in college: writing fiction.

The problem is that writing an A+ college paper does not a good fiction author make. I think that’s why, for the longest time, I figured I would have to settle with being an editor. That I can do. I can tell writers all day long what they need to do to fix their stories because it’s easier to critique a story when you’re not in the midst of creating it. And although I’ve edited a bunch of crap, sometimes I get a real gem that makes me have hope all over again. And I sometimes wonder: what makes this author different than all the others? I mean, aside from the obvious being a good story-teller part.

I think that, in large part, it goes back to what Stephen King says in On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft, and (I’m majorly paraphrasing here) it’s that following an outline, plotting an entire novel to the point that it can no longer breathe on its own, is the best way to create a stiff, author-driven piece of fiction. The point is that the author needs to get out of the way, and that simply can’t happen without taking risks. Like letting the story go where it will. Like sometimes giving your audience an unexpected ending.

Now, before I go any further, let me say that creating any kind of ending simply for the sake of making a statement is the most blatant form of author-interference, and it drives me nuts. Anyone remember when Ian Malcolm dies in Jurassic Park: A Novel, only to be resurrected in The Lost World: A Novel? Well, of course you don’t, if you’ve only seen the movies. That’s because he doesn’t die in the first movie. I can only assume that someone approached Michael Crichton and said, “Hey, we need a sequel, but we kind of need Ian Malcolm to be the main character.” Whoops. He’s dead. So he’s really not dead after all – what a miracle – and we can all forget those tears we shed when we read the first book. Right. (Notice how there’s no third book, but they went ahead with a third movie, anyway?)

I love Michael Crichton, and I actually like the first movie, too, although the whole “based on the novel” part is a very loose interpretation. The point is that risk-taking on his part wasn’t quite what Hollywood wanted. Maybe other authors are afraid of this, so they go ahead and remove the risk – write the ending that they think people will want instead of how the story is supposed to end. Other authors go the opposite direction and just start killing people willy-nilly for effect, making their readers mad for no reason.

But what would happen if we just let the stories be themselves?

It’s harder than you think, of course. Sometimes, a Hollywood director will come along and screw everything up. Or after you die, another author will write the sequel that they feel answers the questions you intentionally left. (I touched on this in a post late in 2012.)

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Stephenie Meyers’s The Twilight Saga Collection. There are all kinds of twists and surprises, not to mention plenty of tension. But – spoiler alert – I’ve always felt a tiny bit cheated by the ending. I never did see the last movie because I was busy juggling a newborn baby and a preschooler at the time, but the previews told me enough: the big conflict that never really happens but just kind of fizzles out (at least in the book) had to be jazzed up a little for the movie. I mean, I’m glad that none of the good guys have to die, but at the same time, knowing how bad the bad guys are, it doesn’t quite seem realistic. (Okay, okay, what is realistic in a story full of vampires and werewolves? But I’m talking about suspending my disbelief to unbelievable proportions, here.) To me, it felt like Meyers actually interfered to keep something from hurting her characters, like she just missed something – maybe something monumental – at the end. I’m not saying to kill Edward or Jacob – or anyone. I’m just saying it’s a little too neat.

I faced the same thing with one of my own stories. I originally published “Stranded” when I was in college, and even back then, I fought with myself over the ending. The title being what it is, I could only do so much, unless I wanted to change that (and I didn’t). But one day, after a reader told me that she’d gotten to the end and wondered where the rest of it was, I considered following up with a sequel. Do people write sequels to short stories? Well, it’s a moot point because I haven’t done it and don’t think I ever will. That’s not to say I haven’t considered it, though. I have – a lot. I’ve read my story many times, trying to figure out what could possibly come next. But even though I created it, I could no more direct the next scene than I’ll be able to tell my children what they’re going to do for their livings when they’re adults.

Then in 2012, I decided to republish it. After all, the original publication was out of print, and I thought I could make a few tweaks to the text, which I did. I think the piece as a whole is improved, but… the ending remains the same. I still couldn’t change it. Why? Because I want to make readers unhappy? No. Because I want them to beg me to write more? No, and I won’t, even if they ask. Because the meat of the story is the same as it was in 2003 when I penned the first draft – that’s why. It just needed a little hair cut, some trimming of the fat. And it might have grown an inch or two since then. But it’s essentially the same story, and I’m glad that I let it be itself.

I took a risk once, and I am satisfied with the outcome. I only hope I can stick to my guns and keep taking those risks. After all, I owe it to the stories.

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What Will You Read in 2014?

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All day long, I’ve done what I could only dream about doing this time last year: I’ve sat on the couch reading a good book. Last December, I yearned for some good fiction after a few months of reading a bunch of how-to and reference materials. So at the close of the year, I looked over the books in my personal library and made a list of titles I hoped to read in 2013. It was a pretty ambitious list, one that I knew I probably wouldn’t finish, but I took a good stab at it. I did read seven of the fourteen books from my list, plus an additional ten that I hadn’t planned on reading.

I have to add a quick note about one of these unplanned books: I edited a novel called Brightleaf this year, and it was published in September. The author is my friend Raleigh Rand, and although I didn’t read this book in the traditional sense of sitting down and reading it for pleasure, I enjoyed every moment of editing it and would highly recommend it. (There’s a story behind this book, but that’s for another blog.)

So when thinking about my book list for the upcoming year, I waited until after Christmas. I can always count on someone to come through with a great book or three, and I had a sneaking suspicion (mainly because he asked me right out what I wanted) that my husband would get me Veronica Roth’s Divergent. I wasn’t disappointed. I went ahead and bought the next two books – and it’s a good thing. I started reading it this morning and am already more than 140 pages in – I’ll be done before 2014.

In addition, an unexpected gift was a book of Mark Twain’s writings from my friend Georgene. I promised that I would quote it a bunch this year, so that’s on the list. Also, my aunt ordered Bess Streeter Aldrich’s The Rim of the Prairie for me, a book I’ve read before, but alas, it was borrowed. Also (and I’m bragging now), I received two books that are a writer’s best friend – hand-crafted, leather-bound blank books. My sister-in-law convinced my husband to splurge on one (thank you!), and my aunt bought the other – they know me so well. When I’m not reading, I’m usually writing, and I can’t wait to fill them.

This year’s list will be composed of three kinds of books – the ones I still have to read from the 2013 list, books that I want to re-read, and brand new ones. And, as happened this year, I am sure that other books will pop into my life and expand my literary horizons still further.

Click on the links below to read more about these books, and if you purchase one from one of my links, you’ll support my blog.

Books I read in 2013:

My 2014 Book List:

Do I really think I’ll finish all these books? Not a chance. (I still do have to feed my kids and clean the house, after all.) But it will be fun trying. What books do you plan to tackle in the new year? Happy reading!

Why Didn’t I Think of This Before?

My Books (some of them)

My Books (some of them)

If you’ve ever seen Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and you’re a book-oholic like I am, your dream house might include a library like the one in the Beast’s castle. You know the kind – book-filled shelves stretching into the stratosphere, complete with those rolling ladder thingies that are absolute necessities if you want reach the upper shelves.

Of course, my fantasy house doesn’t stop there. I want books everywhere. I’ve seen houses where the stairs are shelves with books underneath or where unconventionally-shaped bookcases are built into the walls and nooks of every room.

Since, however, reality is quite a different thing than my dreams, my books reside in my china cabinet (the china is in boxes who knows where), on top of my spinet piano, in a small, three-shelf corner bookcase in my room, and the cookbooks are above the cabinets in the kitchen (let’s be honest: they’re all over the kitchen). The only reason my five-year-old’s bookshelf still has room on it is because his little brother strews the board books throughout the house, so I can’t even claim eminent domain and stash my stuff there. If I decide to buy one more book for myself. . . well, I guess I haven’t put any knickknacks on top of the buffet for a reason.

Space isn’t the only problem. Believe me, I will find room, if I have to balance them on top of fan blades or do something less creative like stack them in the corners. I do have several books in “the cloud” (either Kindle or iBook editions), but I prefer to read physical books with actual pages (although I do publish online – but that’s for another blog). So recently, when I realized that I was going to finish Drums of Autumn (Outlander), the fourth book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, I just couldn’t stomach shelling out another thirty bucks on a book that I want but don’t need. (Read this post to see how much catching up I have to do to reach 2013’s reading goal.)

Now, some of you have already figured out the obvious solution, which saves both space and money, and you’ll think I’m an idiot for not coming to the same conclusion earlier: just check out the book from the library. Well, duh, why didn’t I think of that?

Time to ‘fess. The last time I checked out a book from a local public library was when I was fourteen. And yes, that was over half my life ago. It’s rather shameful, I admit. I mean, my dad worked in libraries as a teenager, my mother worked in our former church’s media center, and one of my favorite places to volunteer at my son’s school is in the library. So why the decade-plus hiatus?

When I was fourteen, I started reading really long books – thousand-plus pagers. They took longer to read than libraries’ allotted two-week borrowing period, and I wanted to spend my time reading them rather than going back to renew all the time. Plus, once I started earning a little spending money, I could afford my own books and immediately grew my collection. I went from bugging my dad to search the various libraries for new Agatha Christies once a week or so to buying almost every Stephen King title available. It also didn’t hurt that we lived near an awesome used bookstore. (Chamblin Bookmine rocks!) Lastly, whereas I couldn’t care less about many other material things, books are the key to my heart – I want to possess them. (My husband figured that one out pretty quickly.)

Now, I did spend quite a bit of time in my university’s library back in my college days, but I didn’t go for the fun of it. When you associate going to the library with study groups and research papers, it kind of loses its appeal.

Then, early in our marriage, my husband and I moved to a different county, thus making my poor, unused library card obsolete anyway. We lived about ten minutes from a very nice library – which was right over the county line. And these two counties do not share benefits. I could enter that library, sure. But check a book out? No way, Jose. The closest library within our own county was over twenty minutes away, and since I was out of the habit. . . Well, you get the idea.

After I had kids, I heard people talk about story times at the various libraries around town, but it never occurred to me to take them. I’m a busy mom, I work, and I am somewhat anti-social. If another mom had invited me, I probably would have considered it. But I should have gone anyway, regardless. I recently had to meet a friend during the week, and the most convenient time was just after story time. So I figured I’d tag along with her, and at least my younger son would enjoy it. Peter was the oldest kid there by far, but I was glad that he was entranced by all the books. Unfortunately, it was, yet again, a library in the wrong county. Peter sometimes checks out books from our church’s library, but after seeing the real thing, he begged me to get a card. We now live less than ten minutes away from a library with an excellent children’s department, so I finally broke down and went. Not only could Peter have access to far more than I could ever afford, but it was clear that if I wanted to read The Fiery Cross (Outlander), I would have to go to the library or dip into the diaper fund. Sorry, books. When you have a twenty-month-old, diapers win.

Hey, I could get used to this. Now Peter has a new reason to be excited to read. And the two-week deadline gives me new incentive to read, read, read.

But just to make sure, when I checked out Gabaldon’s next 900-plus page doorstop, I asked the librarian how my chances were of renewing it.

She looked at me, taking in the baby on one hip and the energetic five-year-old next to me. I’m sure she was thinking, Good luck finishing this in the next two months, lady. Then she smiled and said, “They’re good.”