Writer vs Reader Mode

I think I’ve said this before, but I’m the kind of person who has trouble being both a writer and a reader at the same time.  Usually, I switch between the two roles in a cycle.  For a few months I’m a writer, and I can’t concentrate enough to read ANYTHING because my brain is so full of my stories and characters and all I want to do for 20 hours of every day is sit at my computer and write.  And then, suddenly, I get total brain-block, and I can’t write a thing, and I start reading non-stop.

For the last couple months I’ve been pretty securely in writer-mode.  I got a decent amount of work done on two different WIPs, which makes me very happy, but I was really hoping I could keep it up right to the beginning of the Fall semester.  But for the past week and a half I haven’t been able to write much of anything.  Sometimes if I push and push and push, I could stay in writer-mode a little longer.  But I think writer-mode is now officially over.  Unfortunately.

So, I guess we’re on to reader-mode.  I read A Work In Progress in like a day and a half.  And now I’ve started Open Heart by Emlyn Chand (which I’d PLANNED to read and review near the beginning of the summer, but like I said, I was in WRITER-mode).  I guess it’s good to be in reader-mode since I’ll be doing so much reading for my Fall courses, although it’ll be frustrating that I won’t be reading all my fun stuff, but school-related stuff instead.  And, of course, I know from too much experience that I won’t be getting ANY writing done once the semester starts either.  But oh well.

Does anyone else do this?  Cycle through writer and reader modes?  Or is it just me?  Because it’s a little frustrating, and I’m more than a little jealous of people who can do both at the same time: write in the morning and read in the evening, etc.  I wish I could do that.  *sigh*

In other news, I’m playing with the idea of starting a Tumblr blog.  I had started to watch a lot of Tumblr blogs without having an account, and just collecting them in my browser bookmarks.  And over the last couple months I’ve started following even more, making it hard to keep track of them in bookmarks.  So I figured I might as well start a Tumblr account so that I could keep track of them all.  But now that I have the account, I’m thinking why not start a Tumblr blog?  It would be fun to have something where I can just post images or short comments and things like that, without worrying about making sure a post is long enough and well-written.  I’m playing around with Tumblr right now, trying to get a feel for how it works (it’s taking a little getting used to), but I’ll let you know if/when I get a Tumblr blog up and running.

Any opinions on Tumblr blogs?  Anyone have one?  Now that I have the account, I’m looking to add a ton to my Follow list!  They’re just so much fun!  😀

Okay, folks, that’s all for now.  I hope everyone has a good weekend, and I’ll see you all later!

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Busy Summer Is Busy

As you all may have been able to guess by now, I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy this summer.  But you guys don’t even know the half of it!  Between taking vacation at Yellowstone for five days, going to three concerts (Snow Patrol in May, Legend of Zelda Symphony, and then the Chicago/Doobie Brothers concert in July), and having dinner with famous people, and reading as much as I can manage, I’ve also been hard at work.

School never completely ends for those in graduate school.  There are always things you need to do (or at least SHOULD do) during the summer.  For me, this has included mainly getting more involved with extracurricular/service activities.  I’ve mentioned on this blog before that the English graduate students at UH have been in the process of developing and promoting both a yearly Graduate Student Conference and an academic literature journal called Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature.  While I did some work this past school year to help out with both, I decided that this upcoming year I wanted to be even more involved.  And I managed to get myself nominated as an Assistant Editor to the journal as well as Head of the Publicity Committee for the Conference.  And the work has already begun, especially for the latter.  I’ve spent the last few weeks creating contact lists for every Humanities/Liberal Arts College Dean, English Dept Chair, and Graduate Director/Advisor, for every university in Texas so that we can start sending out personalized invites to both present at and attend the conference.  I still need to make a list for all the community colleges in the Houston area.  And THEN I need to move on to the universities in Louisiana.  In the meantime, the Chief Editor of Plaza is working on the CFP for the journal, and I’m helping out with that.

At the same time, I had made plans last semester to make some serious changes to my syllabus for the coming semester, which I have now started work on.  After having done a lot of research on the benefits and practical applications for using blogging in a First-Year Writing course, I’ve decided to implement it in my classroom.  So I’m trying to work out a concrete plan for how and why I want my students to use blogging as a learning tool and as a way to open the classroom out into a more public space.  I’ve also submitted an abstract for a presentation based on all this research to the Conference on College Composition and Communication, along with two fellow grad students I’m doing a panel with.  It’ll be late August before we find out if our panel abstract was accepted to the conference (which isn’t until next March), at which point we’ll have to get hard to work actually writing the presentations.

AND THEN, throughout the whole summer, in between everything else, I’ve been writing.  A lot.  I started out writing the second draft of Midnight’s Knife, which I made some decent progress on until about three or four weeks ago, when I was hijacked by a new story idea that has completely consumed my brain lately.  It’s going to be a strange one, I can tell…  I actually have the basic premise for an entire series of stories, but this first one is a sort of science fiction detective story.  It’s a kind of mix of X-Files, X-Men, and Sherlock Holmes, with a large helping of human drama about a veteran with PTSD laced through it.  Yeah, if that sounds insane to you, you’re not alone.  It sounds insane to me too, and I’m so excited about it!  I’ve been living inside my main character’s head practically non-stop for two weeks now.

I have a month left until the Fall semester starts, so I’m trying very hard not to waste a minute of it.  We’ll see how much more writing I can get done before school-work takes over.

Also, I’m trying to finish reading Dominant Race by Elisa Nuckle – it’s a novella, and it really wouldn’t take me that long to read, except that I’ve been so busy the last week or so I just haven’t had the opportunity to sit down a finish it! – but hopefully you can expect a review on that on Friday.  And then I’ve agreed to review another novel, a literary fiction called A Work in Progress, which I’m planning (cross your fingers) to post on Aug 3rd.

Okay, folks, that’s all from me for now.  If all goes according to plan, I’ll catch you all on Friday.

Four Webcomic “Shorts” You Really Must See

Four Webcomic “Shorts” You Really Must See

I don’t read as many webcomics as some people do (I just don’t have the time), but I love the ones I do read, and I follow them religiously.  My favorites are in the Links list on the right side, for those who are curious.

I didn’t occur to me at first that along with the usual sort of webcomics, which are formatted as either strips or pages and which update on a regular basis, you could also have webcomic “shorts.”  A sort of short one-short story in comic form.  Then one friend introduced me to “Our Blood-Stained Roof” by Ryan A., and I was cured of my ignorance.  Now, I love webcomic shorts, especially those that are unique in style, and tell intriguing and strange stories.  It takes a lot of talent to both plan/write the story and to do the drawing/painting as well.

Here are four webcomic shorts that I absolutely love, and think you’ll enjoy too.  I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t give you any sort of summary for these (some of them would be kind of hard to describe anyway).  Just take my word for it: they’re wonderful.

“Our Blood-Stained Roof”

by Ryan Andrews

“Nothing Is Forgotten”

by Ryan Andrews

“Darkness”

By Boulet

“The Roller Blades of Suleimaniya”

by Sarah Glidden

I hope you enjoy them.  Please tell me what you think, and if you know of any good webcomics “shorts,” please feel free to share them!

How Alexander and Garfield’s Terrible Days Made Me A Writer

January Entry for the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge:

As you may recall, I joined two reading challenges this year, the 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge, and the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge (click the image above to go to the info page for that challenge).  I posted my first review for the TBR Pile Reading Challenge last week, which you can read here: “A Review of Angela Kulig’s Skeleton Lake #1.”

Now, it’s time for my first post for the second challenge.  I decided to start from the beginning, with some of the picture books that were particularly special to me as a child.

And I’m starting with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz.

“What’s so special about this book?” you might ask.  Well, beside that fact that it is a wonderful, fun, beautifully-illustrated picture book, it was one of the first things that ever contributed to my path toward being a writer.

In second grade, each class had a mascot.  In my class, that mascot was Garfield.  Drawings of him littered the room, we had a stuff doll of Garfield, and everyone took turns taking him home for weekends to “babysit,” for which we all wrote little journals about the things we did together.

Now, in second grade, we read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in class in one.  And we all enjoyed it so much, that we decided as a class to write our own version of the book with Garfield as the star.  Each student was in charge of writing and drawing a single page.  We worked on these for at least two weeks, in between our other classroom assignments.  And I worked diligently to make sure every word was spelled correctly, every letter was written with perfectly straight, neat lines, and my drawing was as close to the real Garfield as possible.  It was my pride and joy.

At my elementary school (the third elementary school I was at, actually), Montclair Elementary School in Virginia, the school had an ABSOLUTELY wonderful program unlike most schools I’ve been to (and I’ve been to many), called Quill and Scroll.  First: the school had a program for which we could by small hand-bound, cloth-covered booklets with blank pages, and write our own little stories in them.  They would also take already written pages to laminate and then bind them with wire rings.  And THEN, once a month, the library hosted a Quill and Scroll Night, during which any student could read what they had written to an audience of students, teachers, and parents.

Our class had our book, Garfield and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, laminated and bound.  And then, in a vote, I was given the honor to read the whole book at Quill and Scroll Night in front of my mother, my friends, the teachers, the other parents.  I was horribly nervous (I didn’t then, and still don’t, do well in front of audiences of any size), but also ridiculously proud.

The book stayed in the second grade classroom, to be shown as an example to future students.  I can’t really remember what my page look liked, or what we all wrote exactly.  But I remember that experience to this day, and always will.

Reading Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day again this morning (yes, I own a copy – I’m working a collection of picture books, in fact), makes me remember with vividness the hilarity and joy we got from the book in second grade.  As Alexander awakens to gum in his hair, stubs his toe, is forced to eat lima beans, and endures all manner of other horrible things, we could all relate to his plight.  Because who among us didn’t hate eating lima beans (and probably still DO hate them)?  Who among us hasn’t had one of those days when absolutely everything manages to go wrong?  And that’s the joy of writing: even when you write things that are strange, unique, or absolutely off-the-wall, you can find a way to make it relatable for people.

That’s what a good book does.  That’s what makes me love reading.  And what makes me love writing.

So, does anybody else remember that book with fondness?  What picture books really inspired you? Or made you extra-happy?  I’d love to hear about them!

Top 10 Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book

I know, I know!  This is really late.  I’m sorry.  I had a rough week.  Please forgive me.

Now onward.  I got the wonderful idea for this post from Ashley Prince’s blog The Bibliophile’s Corner, and couldn’t resist doing a similar list.  My list actually ended up being 11 instead of 10, but I won’t tell if you won’t.  Also, I’ve discovered that 1995-96 was a bad time for me.  Three of the authors on this list died in that period of time.  And fourth on this list died in 1975.  So there’s little chance of actually getting another book out of those four authors, unless someone finds a long-lost manuscript somewhere, or someone learns how to channel them long enough to write their books for them.

Anyway, please enjoy:

The Top 10 Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book!

1)     Roger Zelazny: If you don’t know this yet, let me inform you: Roger Zelazny was one of the greatest scifi/fantasy novelists of all time.  Ever.  Period.  The Great Book of Amber is a brilliant and complex fantasy series with one of the greatest main characters ever written.  And Lord of Light… don’t even get me started on Lord of Light! An fascinating mix of fantasy, science fiction, Buddhist philosophy, Hindu mythology, and good old-fashioned adventure, Lord of Light will make you think, question, and explore more than some classic philosophers I’ve read.  Zelazny wrote plenty of books – many many MANY books, in fact.  But it’s still a crime and a serious detriment to the world that he didn’t write even more before he died in 1995.

2)     Michael Ende: Almost everyone knows his story, but many don’t know his name.  Michael Ende, very popular in Germany where he lived and published many children’s books, is known in the U.S. for only one: The Neverending Story.  And if you’ve read that novel, than you know why it’s a TRAVESTY that he never wrote any other books in that same story-universe, or that few of his other books were ever published in English.  Every single time I re-read The Neverending Story, I wish with a fervent passion that he had written some sort of sequel to it before he died (also in 1995).

3)     Austin Grossman: This man mainly works as a game designer, but he also wrote one novel called Soon I Will Be Invincible, which follows two parallel storylines – a young woman who has just joined the world’s most famous super-hero team, the Champions; and a Dr. Impossible, an evil-genius super-villain who is determined that next time, he will win.  This novel is AWESOME.  At time hilarious, at other times surprisingly sad.  At all times, amazingly human.  I have always loved stories that try to think through the real-world implications of superheroes, and this book does a brilliant job.  I just cannot understand why Austin Grossman hasn’t written another book yet.  Come on, man!  Get with the program!

4)     Frank Beddor: When I read Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars trilogy, which is a intricate reimagining of Alice in Wonderland, I was FLOORED.  It was so different and original, the characters were complex and fascinating, and the action was intense.  I love love LOVE these books, and I seriously NEED him to write something new.

5)     Walter M. Miller, Jr: Walter Miller only wrote two novels (and a slew of short story and essay collections): A Canticle for Leibowitz and Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse WomanA Canticle for Leibowitz is considered one of the greatest science fiction classics (the prequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman received mix reviews at best), and is one of my favorite novels ever.  It’s a post-apocalyptic tale about a Catholic order of monks who survive through a couple millennia of chaos and war.  It is strange, and dark, and epic, and sad, and oddly funny at times.  And I wish to God Walter M. Miller, Jr. had written at least one more really awesome novel before he died in 1996.

6)     Kenneth Patchen: Patchen was best known as a pre-beat poet in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, who was more than a little mad and extremely avant garde, but he also wrote two novels: The Journal of Albion Moonlight and The Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer.  I have yet to read Shy Pornographer, but The Journal of Albion Moonlight is HANDS-DOWN the most insane, most frustrating book ever written.  It’s beautiful and terrifying and hilarious and absolutely MADDENING.  I’d tell you what it’s about but I’m not sure I really can… I guess I’ll need to write a whole post about it at some point, just to get at a FEW of the things that make this book AMAZING and INSANE.  I wish he had written another book, and I don’t know why he didn’t.  He wrote Albion Moonlight in 1941 and Shy Pornographer in 1945, and didn’t die until 1975.  He had the time, dammit!!

7)     Richard Adams: best known for Watership Down (which I’ve raved about before), Richard Adams has actually written plenty of other books, most of which I have not read mainly because I’ve never seen any of them in the U.S.  He published a novel called Daniel in 2006.  And he released a short story a couple years ago.  But he’s 91 years old, and I hope that he writes at least one more.  Even though I haven’t had a chance to read most of his other works, I still wish he’d write another.  I’ll get to them eventually, I know, though it might require ordering books from the U.K., and I want to have many many to choose from.

8)     Harper Lee: She only wrote one novel, but it was doozy.  To Kill a Mockingbird is beautiful, and it will forever remain a classic.  It’s easy to understand why she might not want, or feel the need, to give a repeat performance.  But I wish she’d think of her adoring public and give us one more beautiful piece of art to cherish forever.  She’s only 85.  It could still happen.

9)     John Case: When I read the first book by John Case (which is actually a pseudonym for husband and wife team Jiim and Carolyn Hougan), The Genesis Code, I fell in love.  The Genesis Code, a suspense/mystery thriller with religious themes and slightly scifi undertones, was amazingly sharp and intelligent, fast-paced, intense, exciting, and truly suspenseful.  Their next book, The First Horseman (separate story but also containing religious themes) was equally brilliant.  They have now published 6 books, but the last one came out in 2006, and they need to hurry up and write another.  NOW.

10)   Tim O’Brien: Probably best known for his intense, emotional, and strange Vietnam War novels: The Things They Carried and Going After Cacciato (which happen to be two of my favorite books ever), Tim O’Brien has written eight novels.  The most recent of these, published in 2002, was July, July.  Tim O’Brien is brilliant.  He needs to write more.  Period.

11)   Garth Nix: I have loved Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series for years, and while he’s written a number of other books, some of which I thoroughly enjoy, nothing can quite match the wonder of reading Sabriel for the first time.  Since he finished his Seventh Tower series and Keys to the Kingdom series for the Independent Reader age group, I’ve been waiting patiently (sort of) for him to write something else.  He would be much higher on this list, except that I’ve found news that we should be expecting a new addition to the Old Kingdom series some time in 2013.  Thank goodness!

 

(Click on the cover image to go to the Goodreads page for each book)

So, what authors would make it onto YOUR list??

Let Me Explain…

Let me explain…  No, there is too much. Let me sum up (bonus points to anyone who knows what that’s from):

1)     On Friday, Dec 9th, having completed one 20pg paper, one 10pg paper, one portfolio with various elements, one 20 min presentation, a final French translation project, graded approximately 50 student papers of various lengths, and compiled my final grades, I reached the official end of my first semester as a PhD student.  And survived!

2)     I spent yesterday (Saturday, Dec 10th) with my grandmother, as I had been too busy over the last month and a half to go visit her.

3)     I spent most of today (Sunday, Dec 11th) trying to clean the house, which became excessively messy and cluttered over the semester, so that I can start putting up Christmas decorations.  I will probably be cleaning and/or decorating all this upcoming week especially since we are Christmas-crazy in this house and I have four (count them, FOUR) Christmas trees.

4)     Beginning tomorrow (Monday, Dec 12th) I am participating in a series of blog tours with Novel Publicity. The first is for Terri Giuliano Long’s debut novel, In Leah’s Wake.  I am about halfway through the book myself (having started reading it the MINUTE I wrapped up my grading on Friday afternoon), and should have my own review up in a day or two.  The second is for Scorpio Rising by Monique Domovitch.  And third is for Emlyn Chand’s Ya novel Farsighted.

5)     I am planning some time over the next week or two to revamp a few things on the blog.  I’ll keep you updated on that.

6)     I have a list of 20 books I’m hoping to get through over winter break.  I probably won’t make it through even half of them, but I’m allowed to dream.  Be prepared for plenty of book reviews over the next month or two.

7)     I am also planning to get back to writing over Winter break.  I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to work on the story I started (and didn’t get far with) for NaNoWriMo 2011, or get back to editing Midnight’s Knife.  We’ll see.

In short, the hiatus is over.  I’ll be around for regular posting times again (MWF), through winter break.  When the Spring semester starts in mid-January I may have to adjust my schedule, but we’ll see what happens when we get there.  I look forward to getting back into the swing of things here, and to hearing from all you lovely folks again.  So please feel free to stop on by when you can.  The next few weeks are going to be fun!

I AM a “Real” Writer and They Just Don’t Get It

Free-For-All Friday:  I AM a “Real” Writer and They Just Don’t Get It

(CC) David Turnbull

There’s been some discussion on Twitter and various blogs (as there always is this time of year) about whether NaNoWriMo is really for “real” writers, or if it’s just for non-writers who want to FEEL like “real” writers for a month.  Now, I have NO DOUBT that many of the people who participate in NaNo never write a single word of fiction (except for that email to the boss about being sick) at any other time the whole rest of the year.  However, a) that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with them wanting to try on the “writer” hat during a month when there is lots of enthusiasm and support for the endeavor; and b) plenty of “real” writers who write ALL THE BLOODY TIME also participate in NaNo.

Case in point, I consider myself a “real” writer (whatever the hell that actually means).  No, I’m not published.  No, I don’t have an agent.  And no, I don’t write all that often during the semester (I should say I don’t write FICTION often during the semester, but I’m writing non-fiction up the wazoo).  But I DO write at every given opportunity, I scrape out every spare moment I can, I write in the middle of class sometimes, and I forego sleep some nights because that’s the only time I can find.  And when I took the year off last year, I wrote pretty much NON-STOP.  And did FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY finish a whole first draft (and very long one at that) of a novel.  So, I consider myself a “real” writer, and I think I have right to.

And I LOVE NaNoWriMo.

I love it for a lot of reasons.  I love it because it is the sort of masochistic fun I tend to get myself into.  I love because of all the enthusiasm and support.  I love it because of all the crazy, eccentric, fun, would-be/hopeful writers who crawl out of the wood-work disguised as housewives and teachers and highschoolers and businessmen and firefighters, etc, etc, etc.

But here’s the one thing I think I love MOST about NaNoWriMo: For one month, I can tell my family I’m writing, and they back off.  For some reason, the tangible goal of writing 50,000 in one month is real enough and presumably daunting enough that they realize my time/energy/concentrate are precious, and they don’t bother me with incessant questions, or requests to “just spend some time with family,” or tirades about not doing the dishes in two days.  They leave me alone, and let me write.

Here’s the problem though: They just don’t get that this is how we writers think ALL THE TIME.  In November, when tell someone you’re writing, they don’t respond: “but you wrote YESTERDAY!”  They understand: “But I only have x days left to write x words!  I’m on a deadline and I just don’t have time for anything else right now!”  BUT, any other time of the year, if I say I’m writing, so I don’t have time right now, the retort is: “but you write everyday!” or “you were writing yesterday, can’t you take a couple days off?” or (my favorite) “some things [insert: spending time with family, doing housework, mowing the lawn, etc] are more important than your little hobby.”

They just don’t understand that we’re thinking: “But I only have the rest of my life to write every insane word crowded around and screaming in my brain! And that’s a whole helluva lot of words, dammit!  I’m on a deadline and I just don’t have time for anything else right now!”

Now, I’m not saying I do (or want to) ignore every other aspect of my life.  I still do housework, I still clean the dishes, and do laundry, and go grocery shopping, and do my homework, and watch a little tv, and go to family dinners, and all that other stuff.  But if the dishes wait a couple days while I get a huge chunk of inspired prose out of my screaming brain, then so be it.  And if some Sundays I’d rather sit in my office and write instead of sitting in my grandmother’s living room while all my uncles watch football and I try to look entertained, then so be it.  And my family just doesn’t get it.

As long as it’s November, and I have a clear start and end date, with clear guidelines and an attainable goal in mind, well then: that’s a pretty cool achievement.  But if I’m just writing, every day, any time I can find a few spare moments, when I should be doing homework, when I should be sleeping…  Well, then, it’s like my brother playing video games all the damn time: it’s a fine enough hobby in moderation, but it shouldn’t take over your life, and never supersedes your other duties, activities, etc.

Perhaps if/when I’ve published something, and can definitively say: look, this is a career choice, not just a hobby!  I AM A REAL WRITER.

Maybe then they’ll get it.

But then again, maybe not.