Thankful for Books

Ah, Thanksgiving, the time of year for turkey, cranberries, and Black Friday-none of which are on my list of things that I enjoy.  What I do enjoy, however, is reading. Today I thought I’d share some of the books I’m thankful for.

  1. INSIDE, OUTSIDE, UPSIDE, DOWN by Stan and Jan Berenstain.  It’s the first book I remember from my childhood.  My Dad used to read it to me. Or rather we used to read it together, long before I knew how to read. I can still quote some of it today. “In a box; going to town; inside, outside, upside down.” As an educator/author, I know this picture book was written to enforce the concept of direction. As a wee reader, it enforced a love of language and cuddling up with my Daddy.  I’m thankful for both of those things.
  2. A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle.  I mentioned this one last week, but one can never mention this book too much.  Without a doubt I owe my writing career, whatever it ends up being, to this book.  Not only did this book create a passion for writing in me, it was absolutely the catalyst to the Sci-Fi geek that I am today.  Without this book, my 4th grade self would have said Star Wars is for boys. Without it I would flipped through re-runs of Doctor Who on PBS instead of watching them. Without it, I wouldn’t know the difference between Wil Wheaton and Joss Whedon.  How sad and unimaginative my life would have been!
  3. FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC by V.C. Andrews. I read the entire series. Was I too young at the time? Absolutely. ( If my mother had known what went on in that book…) I’m thankful for this series because not only did it prepare me for Mortal Instruments, but I think it was the first time I had an emotional connection to a book. (Beyond loving them.)  I remember being in the hospital (diabetic complications) and being just vile and hateful to one of the nurses.  My mom questioned why I, normally a pleasant and accommodating teen, would be so mean. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t like her because by all accounts, she was nice to me and a great nurse.  I didn’t understand why at first either. I just knew I didn’t like her.  Then it occurred to me one night as I was reading one of the books in the series-this nurse looked exactly like I had pictured the evil mom looking.  And I hated her for it!  It seems silly now, but I’m thankful that I can totally immerse into a world. I still do that. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  (Note: I have learned to channel my aggression, so if you look like President Snow or Jeanine Matthews, I’ll still give you a chance.)
  4. HARRY POTTER series by J. K. Rowling.  My daughter is a reader (and also a pretty dang good writer/poet.) J.K. Rowling is the reason. In her early years, she was a reluctant reader who read only when her teacher assigned it.   Then came Harry.  I truly believe that the series changed her mind about reading. She grew up with Harry and it is impossible for me to separate him from her. I’m thankful for that, but I’m also thankful that I could read right along with her.  We were at every midnight release and bought two copies so we both could enjoy the magic together.
  5. TWILIGHT series by Stephanie Meyer.  Yeah, I’m thankful for books that I have never read.  (Sorry, couldn’t do it-not my cup o’ tea, as they say.) But I’m thankful anyway. This book, more than any other, grew a fandom.  As a professional fangirl, I appreciate that. Without this book we’d have no Teams! Who doesn’t love a good Team war?   I think this series paved the road for a culture that I truly support.  With so many ills in the world, it’s important to have something that takes you away from all of that.  Fandoms do that. Now, I don’t think fandoms are the most important thing, but I think they’re a good thing.
  6. UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld. I’m thankful for this series because it is a master class in world building. I read this many years ago and I still refer to things as “bubbly-making.”  If you need another world, fine, read another Westerfeld. He’s done vampires, historical fiction steampunk, pop culture-you name it.  I can’t wait until his next book!
  7. DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth.  The moment after I finished Divergent, I grabbed my laptop and wrote the first sentence of my first book.  I didn’t really even know yet what it would be about, I just knew that I had to write. Something about Veronica’s voice spoke to me.  She didn’t make it look easy, she made it seem worthwhile.  So I started writing and I haven’t stopped.   For that, I am most thankful.

There are so many more that I can list. Really I should have just said “ALL THE BOOKS” because every story is worth telling. And every story will find its audience, no matter how small or large.  For that, I give thanks!

Anticipation and Inspiration

When I was in elementary school I used to look forward to a certain day.  I’m talking about bouncing feet, stupid grin, can’t-sleep-at-night anticipation.

Christmas, you ask?

Nope.

My Birthday?

You’d think…but no.

Spring Break, then?

Not even close.

When I was young, the best day ever was the day that the Scholastic Book Order forms arrived. You know the ones-the flimsy pieces of newsprint chock full of glorious color pictures of books.  I would comb through the order form over and over to decide which books my (amazing and generous) parents would buy me.  I was methodical, calculating, and discerning about my book selections.

I remember circling the pictures of my selections like it was the Sears catalog at Christmas. (For you younger folks, that’s what we had before Toys R Us.)  I had to get at least three books because with three books, you got the free bookmark or poster or whatever cheap trinket they used to entice us. After the books were chosen, the form tallied, and the check written, it was time to cut. I can still remember the feel of my red safety scissors as they tore through the form. I’m certain my tongue must have been sticking out as I carefully followed the dotted line and produced the most delightful rectangle ever.

I can tell you that my most beloved book, A WRINKLE IN TIME came from a Scholastic Book Order.  It may sound cliché, but that book changed my life. It gave me a passion for reading, and although I didn’t define it as such at the time, it was the spark that ignited the fire within me to write.

Recently I’ve felt like some of that passion for writing had waned.  I’m not saying I wanted to give up writing. I didn’t and I don’t.  I think I’ve come to what is going to be hard for me-the revising. I was feeling lost and uninspired in spite of having virtually an army of supporters who believe in me and several author friends helping me wade through the revision.  I was just…blah.  Consequently, I was quick to make excuses when I had time to write. Each time I put it off, I became frustrated with myself and that made it worse.

But then last weekend I did something I hadn’t done in a while. (Since ALLEGIANT, actually.)  I read. I picked up a book that I hadn’t read before and I read it. Then I read the sequel. And now I’m 40 chapters into the 3rd book.  (*More on those books below). Something amazing happened-I got the same feeling that I used to get when it was Scholastic Book Order Form day.  I couldn’t wait to get home from my day job and revise. I had thoughts and ideas throughout my day on Monday. It was almost like I couldn’t turn them off.  (None of these match anything from the books I read, mind you. )Inspiration struck and I could barely get it out on the page fast enough.

Words can do that to you.

If you’re a writer and you’re not reading, then you’re doing it wrong. I know that’s a bold statement for someone who is unpublished, but a lot of published authors have said the same.  Reading is essential to writing.  I experienced first-hand. I’m making a promise to myself to never quit reading.

Ever.

If I could get my boss to hand out Scholastic Book Order Forms at work, I would.  I bet some of my co-workers would order books too.

*The books I (finally) read were THE MAZE RUNNER, THE SCORCH TRIALS, and THE DEATH CURE by James Dashner.  They contain a lot of what I’d call “Master Class level” suspense. He puts in just enough mystery and leaves just enough to the imagination to keep you guessing and turning pages. I enjoyed the directness of his writing voice too. I can’t wait to see the movie!

H2Oh, I got it!

I attended a write-in at my local Starbucks last Saturday.  Now I don’t drink coffee, but I didn’t let that keep me from showing up with my laptop and meeting four wonderful and talented writers for a day (or partial day) of writing, conversation, and support.

I discovered that just a change of scenery went a long way in helping me to tap into some creativity.  I’m working the 2nd draft of my story. It’s proven to be very challenging for me. But I found that being in the company of others struggling with the same issues gave me a little more confidence to slay this dragon.

One of the topics that came up that day was the undeniable fact that some of our best ideas come in the shower.  We relayed similar experiences of being in the shower and having some crucial plot point, story problem or idea just materialize in our brains.

One of the writers mentioned reading an article about this phenomenon, so I did a little research. I learned creativity is directly related to the amount of dopamine released in our brains.  The more dopamine, the more creativity. What does this have to do with loofahs and rubber duckies?  It turns out that having more dopamine is only part of the equation-you have to be relaxed too. When our minds are relaxed the alpha waves are focused inward where all of the creativity lives. (Okay, you understand I am paraphrasing, right?) When we aren’t relaxed we focus outward on problems and our brains can’t make those important connections that allow creativity to occur.  Most people find warm showers soothing and relaxing, which increases the dopamine, which allows connections, which unlocks creativity.

I’ve experienced this many times. But not ever if I intentionally go into the shower, turn on the water, and wait for inspiration to strike like a lightning bolt. (Which would be a bad thing because I’m dripping wet, after all.)  When I do this, I’m still focusing outward on the problems and not letting the creative juices flow on their own.

Of course, there’s more to it than Science, I think.  For me, being in the shower means that I’m not checking email, thinking about my day job, fixing dinner, mopping floors, or reading Twitter.  Distraction is a huge part of any writer’s life. Those sacred few moments in the shower get rid of distractions. Inside that little tile box it’s just me, my Garnier Fructis and the words bouncing around in my brain. It becomes more than a shower, it’s an oasis in the desert.  Sometimes that’s all it takes to solve a story problem or defeat writer’s block.

I’m sure it won’t be long before someone invents a laptop you can use in the shower.

Hey, that actually might fit nicely into my Sci-Fi story…

Down by Self-Tacklization

(With apologies to my daughter, who hates this time a year when everything becomes a football metaphor.)

Last Friday we attended a huge high school football game. Huge because our team has had an almost perfect season and we were playing a team who’d celebrated 46 straight wins. (Sadly, now 47) The announcer for our school is a character. He’s known for creating unique ways to describe the action on the field.  He’s fond of the “hashtag, give them six” or “hashtag, that’s gotta hurt.”  Who cares if he sometimes accidentally says that it’s the fifth down?  He’s fun!

Not long into the game one of the players from the opposing team took the ball from his quarterback and began to sprint up the field toward the goal line. He was making pretty good progress…until he tripped over his own feet.  He went down with immense grace, mind you. But, it’s hard to gloss over the fact that the boy just stumbled over himself without any help from the defensive players.

Our announcer’s response? “[Player’s name], downed by self-tacklization!”

I’ve adopted that as my new catchphrase.

As writers, we have a lot of “defensive players” that stand in the way of us making it to the goal line.  We have critics, deadlines, competition, day jobs, other commitments, etc… Sometimes it seems to me that I’m a pee-wee running back playing against the defensive line of the Seattle Seahawks! (Which research tells me is the best defensive line at the moment.) The odds of producing a published work seem that daunting and insurmountable at times.

We may not be able to eliminate the defense entirely, but with practice, training, persistence, (and maybe a good coach) we can get learn to get around them.  A lot of us have great cheerleaders who help us along the way too.

I think, though, one of the worst obstacles we can face is what that poor running back faced Friday night.  I’ve found myself tripping over my own two feet far too often.  I realize that every time I doubt myself and the ability to produce a publishable work is self-tacklization.   Every time I second (and third and fourth) guess a scene before I even finish writing it, its self-tacklization.

The running back recovered from his embarrassing moment and went on to carry the ball successfully all night. That’s my goal – to get out of my own way and carry this ball across the goal line.

“Hashtag, her book is published!”