Monday, February 28, 2011

MFA Monday: Surprise Me

One of my favorite quotes from the residency was from writer and faculty member Claire Davis, who said in her lecture on revision: "There is nothing a writer likes better than a page that is not blank."

I laughed out loud at that, because that is so true for me most of the time. Staring at a blank page, even if the previous ones are full, is sometimes crippling. I can stare at a page for hours and write next to nothing, or write paragraphs that I write over and over, just to erase and start again. Getting something down on the page that is good enough to then scrub and scour and tweak is hard for me.

That's why I love revisions. The story is there. The words are there. All I have to do is make them better.

One of the things I'm working on is creating surprising language. I admit I'm not very good at it yet. More than one faculty member pointed out in their classes that great writing should surprise the reader. Ask yourself how often a reader can guess what you're about to write. If you cover the first half of a sentence, can the reader fill in the rest? If they read the first half of a scene, can they guess the rest?

Think about all the descriptions we use that we think are beautiful but are really cliche:

crisp Autumn leaves
creaky stairs
fluffy clouds
the ground littered with...
the ground blanketed by...
filled the nostrils with the heady scent of....
twinkle in his eyes
the wrinkled lines of his face

I've been helping a friend edit her new YA novel, and on one page I found the following phrases:

The curtains billowed...
Her mother bustled around the kitchen...
The smell of turkey bacon wafted...

Billowed, bustled, and wafted are great words. They are crisp, specific, and not overly-used words. And maybe if she'd used only one on a page, I wouldn't have noticed. But by the second paragraph, I had to note that these were all cliche phrases. If you'd asked me what curtains do in the wind, I would have said billowed. If you'd asked how a smell moves from downstairs to upstairs, I would have said wafted. The words themselves are not the problem; the problem is that they are used in a way a reader has come to expect.

On the next page, though, my friend was back to her brilliant writing, and blew me away with a phrase that mingled words together I'd never have expected. THAT is what every line should be like.

It's a lot easier for me to pick these things out of someone else's writing than to see it in my own. And harder, still, for me to create unique and surprising phrases and scenes. In truth, I think even the end of my novel is predictable from the start. To some extent, there are only two real choices, and the reader is going to know this pretty early on.

Which makes it all the more important for me to create a reading experience that isn't predictable.

Just this morning I was revising and came across in my WIP:

Kat's heart...

What do you think I finished it with?

Originally I had "skipped a beat."  I think somewhere else in the book I have her heart fluttering. I probably have it beating wildly, too. All cliche.

After a few minutes of thinking, I decided on "Kat's heart stumbled over its next beat."  It's not beautiful, but its more unique. I'll probably keep working on it. Funny how long I can spend thinking about one sentence, one visual image, one word.

The next phrase I'm working on is her description of the city. Loud? Crowded? Busy? I have all these things, but I think they sound too common. Time to think of a good replacement.

Think about this as you write this week:

How often in your writing could a reader guess what you are going to say?
How often do you pair words that have never been paired before?
How often will a reader find a statement that startles them?

And have you ever come across a sentence in a book that stopped you in your reading just to enjoy the surprise of language? 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Thank You and Your Welcome

I’m full of appreciation and warmth today. Not the “I have a fever” warmth either. The real “I have some amazing friends” warmth.

The chaos of the week isn’t over by a long shot, but it’s starting to feel manageable. For the first time in a week, my daughter’s fever came down with Advil. That’s good progress for us, and I feel better just seeing her smile again.

My kids have stepped up in a big way. My 12-year-old son has made dinner twice this week so I could run out on an errand; my oldest daughter has been uber-flexible in her own busy schedule, cheerfully.  

My husband took the day off today so I could take the car in to get it serviced before heading to Richmond this afternoon and mail my grad school work that should have been on its way to my advisor on Tuesday.

I had a rush of affection this morning for the two people who made sure that my daughter could go to All-State choir, who made sure she was on the registration list, who got her music and made a CD of the rehearsal tracks when she was sick in January and couldn’t attend the first rehearsal. They went out of their way for her, and as we count down the hours now to leaving for this highlight of her year, I’m so thankful for them.

I’m so grateful for all of you – my blogging friends – who have become real friends to me. Who email me on the side, who say encouraging words, who read my blogs, who have bought my book and said amazing things about it, who have passed it on and bought it for others and spread the word. Who make me laugh, make me think, make me feel less lonely when I am isolated behind my computer screen. You are incredible people, and I am so thankful to have gotten to know you.

I was given a blog award this week by someone I didn’t even know. How cool is that? And ironically, just last week I took off all the blog awards at the bottom of this blog. 

So Lisa over at the Porch Swing Chronicles awarded me the Stylish Blog Award, which I'm hoping has to do with something other than the snowflakes and snowmen that I'm about ready to get rid of on this page. :)

I am supposed to write 7 things about myself and then pass the award on to 10-15 other blogs. That will all have to wait until next week, but I've already discovered several other cool blogs (and bloggers!!) through her awards, as well as getting to meet Lisa, who is most definitely cool. So thank you, Lisa!

As a thank you for being so good to me, I'm passing on two of my favorite new finds this month, in hopes that you as readers or writers will find them as wonderful as I did.

1. A word counter/phrase counter. Agent Steve Laube posted this on his blog last week, and already I've used it several times. You can paste in any amount of words (your entire novel if you want) and it will tell you the amount of times you've used every word in your document and what phrases are repeated. It's great for sussing out cliches and overused words, and for discovering what words you abuse that you don't even know you abuse. 

The link for the word frequency counter is here

2. Better World Books. A friend from school turned me on to this site. It's a lot like Amazon, with a good twist. It started off as a group of college students gathering used textbooks and books that the campus library was throwing away, and selling them online. It has turned into a huge online bookstore where they sell both new and "rescued" books (many of which were heading for pulping or the local dump) where a large percentage of the profits go to literacy. It's what they call "Environmental and social impact all in the same story." 

They have free shipping on all books, and they have a bargain bin you can buy from where the more you buy, the more you save. 3 books for $10. 4 books for $12. I found some great books I was looking for on my semester reading list.
I bought a mix of used and new books. One used book looked used, but the others arrived in mint condition, and I would never have known they were used. I found one writing book that Amazon was selling for $69 that I picked up on Better World Books for $4.95. My first order was for seven books. I paid $25 for the total.

The bad thing is that it took about two weeks to get the books, so if you need them fast, this isn't your place. But otherwise, I absolutely loved shopping there.

So there you go. My Friday gifts to you. I hope you are heading into a good and fun weekend! I'll catch you on the other side.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

All Is (Not) Well

I have friends whose son recently fell off a 50 foot waterfall. They watched as he fell from one slippery rock to another, landing on his head near the bottom, battered and nearly unconscious. Over the next few months, they went through weeks of coma, not knowing if he'd ever wake again. They went through weeks of him being awake, but unable to move or speak or communicate. They've gone through months of rehabilitation, each small step a huge victory as their son learned to sit up, to stand, to walk, to say words, to do simple things like throw a ball and recognize letters. Essentially, their son had to live his entire first fourteen years over again, re-training his brain to do all the things it had already once learned.

Through it all, they kept a blog, a letter to all the concerned family and friends, detailing each day's struggles and successes. At the end of each day, they signed off, "We are well."

I think about that signature often, and wonder how, in the face of all that was wrong, they could say, "We are well." How, when I so often find myself thinking "All is NOT well today."

All has not been well in a while. I broke my foot and ruptured all the ligaments that hold my ankle together. I got the flu. The flu developed into a nasty sinus infection. That sinus infection developed into asthma. My oldest daughter got a cold. It turned into a sinus infection. My youngest daughter caught an awful cold. The first daughter then picked up a great case of strep at school. My youngest daughter countered that with the flu.

I haven't seen the outside world in nearly a month. We are out of milk. The car needs maintenance. I have a graduate school packet I need to get in the mail that I can't get to the post office to mail. I'm behind on my reading, writing, and blogging. In two days I'm supposed to drive my oldest daughter to Richmond to chaperone a weekend of All-State Choir, as long as she stays well and I don't catch the flu again, and my youngest is better. In four days we have company coming. All is not well.

I've had discussions recently with friends who wonder how everyone around them seems to be doing more than them. The admiration for others always starts with "It's all I can do just to ___" Fill in that blank with whatever it is you do. Because whatever it is you do, it's not as much as someone else. Isn't that what most of us think?

But the fact is that all of only have 24 hours a day, and most of us fill it with however much we can. Some keep cleaner houses. Some make more gourmet meals for their families. Some entertain. Some write 10,000 words a day (you know who you are!). Some go to school full time. Some work full time. Some are juggling the schedules of six kids (and those of you who do that are probably not reading blogs). Some read. Some are exercise and fitness enthusiasts. Some run businesses. Some homeschool. Some take the moniker of stay-at-home-mom to new heights.

And by doing whatever it is we do, other things slide. It's the rule of time. There is always more to do than time to do it, and I'm convinced most people I know really do the best with the time they have. How do I write and go to grad school and run a family of five? I have laundry that sits in the dryer until another load kicks it out. Then sometimes it sits in a hamper waiting another week to be folded. I cook things that only take less than 30 minutes to throw together. I have cobwebs in the light fixtures. I don't spend nearly the time I used to playing with my kids. I skip meals. I quit the gym. I don't read or write blogs regularly anymore. I shop a lot less and if I forget something at the store, we do without until the next week when I go back. Others in the house are having to do more.

Sometimes I am sinking. Sometimes I'm falling. Sometimes I'm treading water, keeping my nose just barely above the surface.

But in the end, what needs to be done gets done. And I realize a lot of things don't really need to be done. And maybe that's what my friends have taught me. When a crisis narrows your life to a hospital room and your son's future is dubious, maybe you can really see what matters.

Am I alive today? Are my loved ones alive today?

Then maybe all is well after all.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What's the Point of Reading Classics?

This week I read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and it nearly killed me. Four days, ninety pages... torture.

I know this is considered classic literature and I should treat it with deference, but really? Seriously? Someone thought this was great writing?

I know the story itself is supposed to be revelatory. I know this because I couldn't understand a single sentence in the first 20 pages and resorted to reading summaries and analysis online to give me some sort of bearing. It is an expose on the cruelty of colonization and the ivory trade, a revelation that was, in its time, a picture of a world most people didn't get to see. It was The Jungle of its day. [The Jungle by Upton Sinclair focused on the evils in the meat packing industry, and the uproar raised by the book inspired labor and agriculture reform. That book I loved.]

I get that there's a place for books that, at the time of publication, were life-view-altering, whether or not the writing itself was well done. I wrote about that when I read Ten Days In A Madhouse last year. But I wonder now, in the age of live news broadcast from around the world, of thorough history lessons complete with old newsreel footage or faded photos, of horror films in which each tries to trump the disgust factor of the last, is Heart of Darkness so shocking anymore? Is the fact that a man might get so greedy for ivory that he would shoot the natives to keep them complicit, that he would - cast alone into this very foreign land - lose himself and eventually turn to cannibalism - so shocking anymore? Am I totally callous for feeling like this is what I hear every day on the nightly news?

Over time, the things that Conrad reveals in his book - horrific in their time - have become just another chapter in the history books that kids read in school. True, it doesn't make them less awful (and shouldn't), but the commonness of the tale now should mean for something to stand the test of time, it must also be beautifully or strikingly written.

So is the value in the story itself, in its place as ground-breaking, or in its true literary worth?

The writing itself drove me mad. Conrad needed to read Strunk and White, is my opinion. Would it hurt to break the paragraphs into smaller paragraphs? Would it hurt to indent each time a new character talked, so that the dialog looked like dialog on the page and not just a jumble of quotation marks?

The sentences themselves seemed determined to be as long as possible to say as little as possible, in as confusing a way as possible. If I hadn't looked up the synopsis ahead of time, I probably wouldn't have understood the first part of the book, which may not say much about my ability to read. Still, should a book only be written for the literary brilliant?

It is a story within a story within a story - a metaphor where the trip deep into the darkest parts of the jungle is the same as going deep into the darkest parts of man. And that drove me crazy. Some nameless narrator was telling the story about someone telling the story of going down the Congo and running into someone else who told the story about Kurtz, who'd gone insane in the jungle and given himself over to the darkest side of himself. There were very few scenes; it was narration, as if someone sat in your kitchen telling a story about a story they'd heard from someone else who'd told it to them.

It reminds me why I loved the Pacific University program so much - because we get to create our own reading lists and not be forced to read what some academic thought was classic, important literature. If I had to read two years worth of stuff like this, I'd never make it.

I don't want to downplay the importance of classics. I put this book on my list because it seemed like a book I should read. And as much as I hated reading it, I have to admit that I'm glad I did, if only not to feel like an ignoramus when this comes up in discussion. I've been on the receiving end of the "What? You call yourself an author and you've never read that??" before. It's not fun.

Although, one could also say there are far too many books - even if you want to limit to classical literature - for any one person to read them all. I've read quite a few of Shakespeare's plays, but not all. I've read much of the Bronte and Austin books, but not all. I've read a lot of Flannery O'Connor, a smattering of Faulkner and Hemingway, but none of Chaucer or Ayn Rand.

I read three of the Best of 2010 list, but I didn't read Franzen's Freedom (which, trust me, in certain circles puts me distinctly on the outside). I will read over 80 books in the next two years, and I will still end up on blogs and in conferences and at book clubs where I will feel I didn't read the right things, or read enough.

So why bother?

I went to summer arts program when I was in high school with other students from all over the state of Virginia. One day, in lecture class, we all got talking about why we have to read certain classics. And one person said (this was 25 years ago, so you can tell what an impression it made on me): "We are all from different high schools, spread out over a huge area. And yet, when we showed up today, every one of us has read Romeo and Juliet and The Red Badge of Courage. We all have that in common. And now we have a place from which to start a discussion."

Is this why we continue to read books that fell off the bestseller list a hundred years ago?

Tell me - do you read books that are considered classics, and why or why not? And have you read the Heart of Darkness and thoroughly disagree with me about its worth?

Monday, February 14, 2011

MFA Monday: Fowl Wisdom

"Readers are like baby ducks at the beginning of the story – they will adhere to whatever they see first (The mommy syndrome). Writers have a tendency to throw too many mothers at the beginning, and the readers don’t know what to stick to."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Speak With Authority. Ya Know?

A friend posted this on facebook and it was too good to not pass on. To my facebook friends who've already seen it, I apologize.

If I could write poetry, I'd want it to sound like this.

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Books of the Week: Life of Pi, The Art of Racing in the Rain, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

In the last two weeks I managed to read three entirely different books that all involved animals in some crucial way. Totally not planned, but there it is.

Interestingly, each week that I review my two books, they seem eerily alike in some fashion, although completely different in story, plot, style, character, theme, or even genre. I theorize that you can take any two random books and find something alike in them!

So onto this week...

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Summary: The peripatetic Pi (ne the much-taunted Piscine) Patel spends a beguiling boyhood in Pondicherry, India, as the son of a zookeeper. Growing up beside the wild beasts, Pi gathers an encyclopedic knowledge of the animal world. His curious mind also makes the leap from his native Hinduism to Christianity and Islam, all three of which he practices with joyous abandon. In his 16th year, Pi sets sail with his family and some of their menagerie to start a new life in Canada. Halfway to Midway Island, the ship sinks into the Pacific, leaving Pi stranded on a life raft with a hyena, an orangutan, an injured zebra and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. After the beast dispatches the others, Pi is left to survive for 227 days with his large feline companion on the 26-foot-long raft, using all his knowledge, wits and faith to keep himself alive. (From Publishers Weekly)

My Impression: I added this to my reading list because it was on several college lists as modern classic literature. I found it in the classic section of my local bookstore. So I was surprised to find out it was published in 2002.

This book is broken into three parts. The first part is a meandering musing from the point of view of the main character on animals and religion. It' s by no means fast paced, and there were times I wondered what the point of it was, and yet I loved the use of language. It was the first book in a long time that I wanted to read with a highlighter in the my hand. I think I muttered the word "profound" more than once, and tortured my husband reading "just one more" passage.

The second part is the longest, and the majority of the book. It's about his trip across the ocean in a lifeboat with the tiger names Richard Parker. Although you know from the start that Pi makes it alive, it is still fraught with tension and suspense. There are certainly some strange parts in the story: he goes blind temporarily and, while floating adrift in the ocean (the ocean!!) he happens to bump his liferaft into another temporarily blind man also adrift from some other sunken boat. Also, there is the much-talked about island that seemed at first to be idyllic, and then turns out to be full of carnivorous trees. Creative for sure.

The third part is after he has made land and explains his story to the officials who come to find out how the ship he was on sank. I won't go into this part other than to say that in the span of a few pages, you realize that perhaps everything you just read was not entirely the way it was. It was a gut-punch moment, frankly, that made the book for me.

That all said, I found myself most of the time wishing I was reading one of my other real-life on-the-sea survival books that I love so much. In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbreck for one. Or Albatross by Deborah Scaling Kiley. I suppose I have long loved the real survival stories, and so this one, while well written, left me a little empty just for the loss of knowing it wasn't true.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Summary: Enzo is a lab terrier mix plucked from a farm outside Seattle to ride shotgun with race car driver Denny Swift as he pursues success on the track and off. Denny meets and marries Eve, has a daughter, Zoƫ, and risks his savings and his life to make it on the professional racing circuit. Enzo, frustrated by his inability to speak and his lack of opposable thumbs, watches Denny's old racing videos, coins koanlike aphorisms that apply to both driving and life, and hopes for the day when his life as a dog will be over and he can be reborn a man. (From Publishers Weekly)

My Impression: I was hooked from the first line, dragged through the book with the inability to put it aside, all the while weeping embarrassingly on the crowded metro and laughing out loud in my empty house.

Enzo the dog is entirely lovable, and his personality and voice are the clear stand-outs in this book. But the book is really not about Enzo, as much as everyone else would like to declare it is. Enzo is the unique narrator who is, nonetheless, telling a story that is as much about someone else as is it him. Because he's a dog, he really has no pull or push on the plot. He's an observer, and as such, the story itself is really about his family, specifically his owner Denny. And what a story that is.

I don't want to spoil too much. I didn't know very much about this book when I began it, and I think that was a plus. Each page is filled with conflict, something else going horribly wrong in Denny's life, and there were characters I wanted to hate with a passion, and others I wanted to take into my arms. It was an emotional book. A fast read, and one that, at the end, makes you feel good... and want to go rub the belly of a puppy.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Summary: Late one night, Christopher comes across his neighbor's poodle, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork. Wellington's owner finds him cradling her dead dog in his arms, and has him arrested. After spending a night in jail, Christopher resolves--against the objection of his father and neighbors--to discover just who has murdered Wellington. He is encouraged by Siobhan, a social worker at his school, to write a book about his investigations, and the result--quirkily illustrated, with each chapter given its own prime number--is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. (Summary written by Jack Illingworth)

My Impressions: I seem to have gotten into a string of books with unique narrators. Like Room, which is a five-year-old boy and The Art of Racing In the Rain, told by a dog, this narrator gives the book an entirely different voice than if it were told by a common third person. The narrator of the book is a 15-year-old autistic boy who doesn't eat brown or yellow foods, does complicated math in his head to calm the terrors he feels, flies off the handle when others touch him, and would not for the life of him understand the phrase "flies off the handle" as anything other than exactly what the words mean - that someone is literally flying off the handle of something.

This book was fast and easy to read, full of illustrations and examples done by Christopher, and with a simple but heart-breaking plot. This dead dog that Christopher finds begins not just a detective job but ends up unraveling his whole life. Secrets about his family are exposed, and Christopher, sure he is not safe, takes off on his own in a journey that is even less safe give his inability to deal with his surroundings.

The book itself is very good. I'd definitely recommend it. That said, the choice of an autistic narrator has its quirks. For one, because autistic people often have a hard time connecting with others, I had a hard time connecting with this narrator. I wanted to love him, feel protective of him, and yet I felt always held at arm's length from him. I think this is truly a triumph of the author, but I wonder if the cost is worth it.

What about you? Read any great books lately?

Monday, February 7, 2011

MFA Monday: Cutting the Fat

"Is your book 100 page book, or is it a 50 page book wearing a fat suit?"

This is the way one of the faculty opened his lecture on editing, one that continues to ring in my ears each time I open my project. I love that statement. As someone who thought I always wrote pretty skinny first drafts, I realized my drafts were thin because I was leaving out the meaningful details, but I still had much to cut.

Here are a few easy and simple ways he suggested "cutting the fat" from your writing:

  • Qualifiers can almost always be cut (very, almost, kind of, rather, a little, a bit, maybe). Trust the meaning of your main words; qualify only if the distinction is necessary
  •  Simplify Verb Forms Have, had, or had can usually be eliminated from the verb without changing the meaning. Keep only if necessary to qualify the time something happened. Watch out for the word "can" as well. Only use it when it's important to show the ability to do something.
  • Don't state the obvious. Shrugging (her shoulders). Blinked (her eyes). Yawned (sleepily). Look of surprise (on her face). We don't need the words in parenthesis; those are understood.
  • Cut the words "that" or "which" if the sentence makes sense without it. 
  • Eliminate things a reader would already know. Not all details are equal. Writers have a tendency to move a character through every action; don't. For instance, we know when a person wakes up, they turn off the alarm, get out of bed, go to the bathroom, brush their teeth, get dressed. Unless this information is in some way critical, leave such detail out.
  • Control the pacing of the scene by what you leave in and what you take out. Less details lead to a faster pace. Adding them slows it down.
It's amazing to me how innate these mistakes are. Even when I go through my work in an effort to cut, unless I'm specifically looking for one of these, I tend to miss them. But when I find and revise, it's also amazing how much tighter and leaner the writing is, more focused. It forces you as a writer to find the better words, to come back to the nouns and verbs that make writing focused and deliberate. A reader may not be able to put their finger on why a novel feels fluffy or deliberate, but they'll notice it nonetheless. Make each word count.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

BLOG TOUR: Interview with Jen Blom, author of POSSUM SUMMER

(My note: Jen Blom was one of the first writers I met on the blogosphere, and it's been three years since we decided to band together and create a critique group with several other wonderful writers. Since then, I've watched her write, query, get a fantastic agent, go through the painful process of submissions which ended inevitably perfectly for her, listened to her as she went through the process of edits and now, waiting with baited breath for her Middle Grade Novel POSSUM SUMMER to come out.
Jen is an amazing writer, with more stories in her than just about anyone I know. I've had the privilege of reading this one, and several others that will be published in the coming years, and am just so excited to have her here on this blog. I'm also honored to host her main character, P, for a few interesting questions as well. So, off we go...)

Welcome to the POSSUMS ARE AWESOME blog tour for the middle-grade book, POSSUM SUMMER, coming out in March! (Have you preordered yet?)

Today I'm taking over Heidi's blog today to post a couple awesome questions she asked me, and in return, P asked her a couple! And you won't believe what happened next...but you have to wait until the end of this little interview for that!

First off, about the book:

a lonely kid.
an orphaned baby possum.
a dad that says no way.
how do you keep that kind of secret?

and what happens when you’re found out?
So! On we go with the Thrilling Three questions!

HW: Jen, do you know the endings of your stories before you write them?

JKB: Sometimes. With P, I thought I did, but we actually cut the entire last chapter during copy-edits, which thankfully made the book just that much stronger! My editor is amazing for even considering it, but we both agreed it was the best thing to do and I'll love her forever for it.

HW: What makes you so attached to possums?

JKB: I had a possum when I was P's age. (And many other animals, but that's a story for another day.) And the first chapter was exactly the sequence of events that brought me my little possum friend - except there were TWO dogs that wouldn't listen to me, not just one!

HW: What surprised you most about the story as you wrote or revised it?

JKB: Just how much stronger it could be after continuous revisions. When I first got my edit letter, I almost had a heart attack! But my lovely editor was right on with every question she asked, and I could not believe I could cut so many words and still have a story! It was an excellent lesson to learn!

Princess: MY TURN!

JKB: Shuddap kid. I'm having an interview here!

P: No, I'm innerviewing this lady right now! Hi, Miss Heidi! First question *JKB IS PUZZLED* is What's your favrite food?

HW: Well, it's Mexican! Fish tacos, pulled pork burritoes, rice and black beans, tamales ... is it any wonder I set all my books in Texas?

P: You like fish tacos? Gross! What's your favrite activities? *JKB reaches for the spellcheck* *P bats her away* Stop it! You're not the boss of me! *JKB tries to chill*

HW: Reading. And skiing, but I don't get to do that nearly as often as I'd like.

P: I like reading too! But my teacher says I got problems with my silent consonants, which is why I'm doing this. NEXT: What's yer most inneresting body part about yourself?

HW: I have pretty big green eyes when I smile.

P: Ok! You smile great, I've just seen your picture! I've looked through all the Oklahoma animals I have a list of, and I borowed Jen's ency-ensyc-big information book and I've picked who you'd be as an Oklahoma animal and I drawed you! I hope you like it!

P: You're just like a deer! Get it? You've got big eyes, and Jen said you broke your foot recent, and I --

JKB: -- thanks so much for letting me hang out with you at your lovely blog, Heidi! *muscles P into submission* I'll be going now!

Jen K. Blom writes about animals, the land, and kids, not necessarily in that order. Her debut, POSSUM SUMMER, is available March 2011. Just the thing to give to a kid to start their summer of reading off right! (Available from your local indie, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, or Book Depository!)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

AWP Conference Alert: We Are Taking A Break From Our Regular Schedule

Usually on Wednesdays I try to write about the books I've read this week. This week, I've read two spectacular books I can't wait to write about. But it's not going to be today.

Because two days ago my plans for the week changed.

A friend from school sent me a message asking, "Are you going to the AWP conference this week? Do you want to meet up?"

Honestly, I didn't even know there was a conference, let alone that it was this week. I've kind of stopped looking at conferences altogether because I just can't afford them right now. And with school - well - I don't have time to go traipsing off to some foreign city hotel for a week. I did that a month ago.

And until residency, I didn't even know what the AWP was. It's this totally amazing writing association for people who write. Anyone who writes. Not just romance writers. Or mystery writers. Or children's writers. Anyone. Poets, short story writers, novelists, memoir-ists. Anyone. And they have all this amazing stuff available for members. You should go check it out!

And apparently, they have this HUGE conference every year.

And apparently this year it's in D.C. Which is practically my back yard.

So even though the hotels are all sold out (which I think is actually just a technicality, since half the people can't get here due to the snow storms), I can metro it in like nobody's business.

And, it turns out, since I'm a student, I can flip my ID card and get the student rate, which is (hold your hearts here, because this is GOOD!!!)... $45.  Yes. You read that right. I didn't leave off a zero or anything. And that covers all three days. Isn't that CRAZY??? Turns out all that grad school debt is paying off. :)

So I'm musing about this on Monday, that there is this conference and that I know people going, and that it's right up the street, practically, and how sad it is that I didn't know this ahead of time, and next year it's going to be in Chicago and then I won't go because it's so far away and I would have to travel and get a hotel room, and my husband says:

"Well, you should go."

And I'm like, "What??"

And he says, "Yeah. You should go. Let's see if we can figure out who can watch the kids, and I'll just drop you off at the metro on my way to work, and pick you up on my way home."

So yeah. He totally rocks.

So now, it's official. I'm going to the conference.

And along with classes on how to get an agent and how to get published (which are panel discussions led by some agents whom I'm sure you'd know), there are readings by some authors like Joshua Ferris, Joyce Carol Oates, and Ben Percy (who is one of the writer/faculty at Pacific who is AMAZING!!). And there are other classes on how to write, too, of course.

So I'll be missing out on some of the more fun aspects. The keynote speaker and big conference events are at night, along with the reception and dance party, and I'll be home by then.

But something is better than nothing, and I'm so excited!

Come back here tomorrow, though, because I'm hosting Jen Blom on her most awesome Possum Summer World Blog Tour for her debut book. It's an awesome and funny interview, and her character butts in a little and also draws a picture of me. :)  You don't want to miss that!