Sunday

Today Chicago had the kind of weather that San Diego has everyday. As in, magnificent. Perfect for sitting outside and eating tortilla chips in a cute little ropped off area, which is what I did. I sat outside and ate chips and enchiladas and only just managed not to claim the enormous margarita that the waitress accidentally brought to my table, because, no, I didn’t order it but it was so pretty and big that maybe I should have.

Writing notes: I’ve been doing more organizing and editing than writing-y writing but I feel like I’m making progress and getting my thoughts in order, which is all to the good.

Reading notes: I’ve started Dare Me, which is both hypnotic and horrifying. It’s also one of those funny books where you think you know what the basic plot will be and it turns out that you really, really don’t.

Friday morning

It’s felt like a long week, and getting up has been difficult some mornings, but this morning I woke up easily, which was a nice change of pace. I think I was once a morning person, a long, long time ago. That is no longer the case. Yet today when the alarm went off I didn’t fight it, my body didn’t sink down deeper into the bed. I didn’t spring from bed with a smile or anything—let’s be real—but I thought, “Okay, this is alright. I’m ready for another day.” And that’s something, that’s a kind of acceptance that I usually don’t reach until about half an hour after I’ve consumed a good dose of caffeinated tea.

Writing notes: Not the best week for writing. Did a little. Should have done more.

Reading notes: Finished two books. Have mixed feelings about both. I’ve started The Black Hour, which I’m enjoying so far. I picked it up during a mystery writers talk at my local bookstore, in which Lori Rader-Day lead the discussion (and did a very good job, I should add). Most of the writers were debut authors and it was really interesting to hear about them and their book’s (often not smooth) journey to publication.

Dog days of summer

My dog is currently wedged between the couch and the coffee table, which is where he likes to doze when it’s too warm to hang out with me on the couch. I can reach down and pet him occasionally, which I feel like he appreciates somehow despite being unconscious. A little while ago we went on a walk together because it had finally stopped pouring for long enough for us to make a break for it, and on this walk I wore knee length galoshes and a raincoat, which mean that I looked like an idiot since it’s 80 degrees outside. Anyway, it wasn’t a very long walk but his legs are very short so he’s out like a light now.

There’s no dramatic end or twist to this anecdote. That’s the thing about dogs, mostly they just add this layer of uncomplicated good to life. They love you, they like walks, they nap a lot. People who don’t like dogs are, for me, like people who don’t like chocolate or reading—it’s not that there is anything wrong with them, it’s just that I can’t quite understand how something that is so core for me doesn’t resonate for them.

Writing notes: Doing some work on a piece for a class, but I’m finding myself going slower and slower and I think it’s because I’m not really convinced that it is going to come together. I think the idea a lot but I think the amount of research and redrafting it might take to make it more successful may not be worth it. And it feels strange to make that call because it seems like giving up but then again I think it’s probably good to give up on things sometimes, to act like your time and effort are finite commodities.

Reading notes: I’m reading a book called “At Hawthorn Time” at the moment. It was on the “New” shelf at the library. I liked the cover and it had a nice blurb by Helen MacDonald, who wrote “H is for Hawk,” so I thought I’d give it a whirl. The writing is beautiful, and it is really making me want to wander around an English village, and also through the English countryside. There are a lot of men’s names though so it’s some work to keep all of the characters straight.

 

 

New year, new you

For me, the beginning of a new year can be a heady time. On the one hand, it is exciting and full of possibility. On the other, my list of what I’d like to do differently can get so long that it can become depressing rather than energizing. Also, a year can seem like a long time. So, what I’m thinking at the moment is to approach it differently and have monthly themes, and then see what sticks. Maybe it is really just a different way of saying that I want this year to be a year of trying things out and not judging myself too harshly at the end of it all.

Writing notes: I can’t lie (well, I could but I am choosing not to)–it has been very slow. Not much progress.

Reading notes: I finished the Book of Unknown Americans, which I really enjoyed. I haven’t started anything new yet–there are a number of books that I have placed holds on from the library but I haven’t gotten my sweaty little hands on any of them yet.

Intention vs. reality

In theory, the manuscript that I’m working on at the moment is supposed to be a hilarious and heart breaking exploration of first love. It’s supposed to be deep and irreverent and find a perfect balance it not being ridiculously obvious what is going to happen but also not pulling plot points out of thin air.

What I have at the moment is a manuscript which moves both too slow and too fast and where a fifteen year old boy spends WAY too much time talking to his mom about food. Apparently I spend much of my writing time hungry. I should invest in more snacks. Writer-y snacks.

Writing notes: Working on said manuscript. I keep thinking that sections are underwritten and trying to solve that problem by either adding 300 odd words describing a single thing, or writing something which I think is clever and funny only to find that I wrote basically the same thing two paragraphs down. Sad.

Reading notes: Read and finished The Tiger’s Wife. I have started The Book of Unknown Americans which is by a Chicago author! Hurray for Chicago!

Day of boxing

It is now the evening of the 26th and I am 95% certain that if I had not laid down the law yesterday evening my family would still not have unwrapped their Christmas presents. I think of myself as a relatively patient person–not overly interested in the commercial side of things–but in my family I stand out like Veruca Salt among the ‘Hoos of ‘Hoosville. Still, aside from an utterly un-American lack of interest in opening presents by the rest of my kin, it was a lovely day, and thankfully did not involve a full out tantrum on my part.

Writing notes: I keep messing around with my Nanowrimo novel, acting as if moving chapters around will cause the plot to suddenly fall together perfectly, and that no other real work is required. So far, this is not turning out to be true and yet I persist. I also worked more on a short story and I’m actually pretty happy with it, which is nice.

Reading notes: I’m trying to read some of the books that are making it into important publications’ top ten lists as it turns out that I have managed to read embarrassingly few of them. I read “Everything I never told you” which was completely heartbreaking and brilliant and “Boy, Snow, Bird” which was interesting and beautifully written but ended at a very strange point for me (I wanted either about twenty more pages or twenty less). I also read “Euphoria” which was a good read but where I hated one of the characters so much that it was distracting (I thought that there was going to be a reversal where it turned out that he was less loathsome than I thought but there wasn’t really).

Thanksgiving

I’m thankful for many things. Family, friends, all of that. But today I was reading about feeling thankful for authors and I thought of Cynthia Voigt.

I did not read all that much YA when I actually was a young adult. It was important to me to be smart and I thought that involved reading above your grade level so that is what I did. I did read Cynthia Voigt though, and two of her books were very important to me. One of them was Izzy Willy Nilly and the other was The Runner.

I have reread Izzy Willy Nilly but not The Runner, so I only have a general memory of what happened in it but I remember being very struck by its presentation of issues around racism and personal responsibility—of what happens when no one speaks out when authority members do something which is clearly wrong. These are issues that have clearly resonated with me and that I’m still struggling with, both in what I write and in my day to day life.

Izzy Willy Nilly I have reread at least once so I have a much more clear memory of the plot: A girl wakes up in hospital to find out that she has lost half of her leg in a car accident (her inebriated date was at the wheel), and spends the rest of the book figuring out how to handle the fallout of this event on her relationships with her family and friends and also physically recover from the trauma. I am not sure quite why this book resonated so much with me. There is a strong female friendship built with an outsider, there is the exploration of how to rebuild a life after an enormous change, there are solid family dynamics with interesting, well observed individuals rather than generic parentals and siblings–many good things, but I can’t fully explain its impact. All I know is that I am grateful for this book. For both of these books. For making me feel like reading about characters that were the age of my peers (or slightly older) was a worthwhile thing to do.

Writing notes: I have been doing almost nothing.

Reading notes: Read The Secret Place. Enjoyed it–particularly the structure of it. I personally would have preferred Tana French to either double down on the speculative elements or remove them but that is a relatively minor quibble.

On pause

On Tuesday, I looked up the weather. “11, feel like -9” was what the internet told me. In November. The thing is, I love you anyway, Chicago. Even when you pull stunts like that, my love remains. Your reasonable real estate prices, your wonderful public transportation system, your amazing, amazing food… I can’t quit you.

Writing notes: I have not been doing well on the writing front. I’m in a bit of a dip. Not in a tragic way, should there even be such a thing as a tragic dip, but more of a taking a breather way. I’ve done little bits here and there, and I think that’s alright. I’ll get back on the horse.

Reading: I finished The Dept of Speculation. I enjoyed it. Very lyrical and wove with a wide weave–not all tightly plotted. Then I read Those Who Wish Me Dead which was just so much fun. I do like a brainy thriller in an unusual setting with truly scary bad guys. So many twists!

Doing the Charleston

YALL fest in Charleston is proof positive that all the hand wringing about kids not reading anymore and just being blank eyed robots unable to focus for more than 140 characters at a time is all a bit ridiculous. The lines were insane, in a good way. In a clear and present hope for humanity kind of way. Perhaps one day I’ll be a fancy YA writer and they will invite me and it will be glorious but tragically that day has not yet arrived.

Writing notes: Toddling along. Took a break for about a week but now I’m revisiting my NaNoWriMo project. It’s all a bit of a mess but I still really like the ideas at the core of it so I’m hoping to get it to a better place, and I’m going to ask people in my class to give me some feedback on the first ten pages. And it turns out there is nothing like prepping to ask people about your work to make you see all the flaws in it, for better or for worse, so I’ve been doing some editing and rearranging.

Reading notes: I’ve been reading The Empathy Exams, which is a collection of really wonderful essays, and I also just finished the second in the The Last Policeman trilogy–which was excellent and means that I’m now planning to read the third in the not so distant future. Oh, and I’m currently about half way through The Department of Speculation which is an unusual book for me (very much not about scenes or action at all and a bit fragmented) but I’m enjoying it.

Cooking, or lack there of

There was a two year period where I cooked. Cooked a lot. Spent significant time each week pouring over new recipes and deciding what I would make over the next week. I certainly repeated recipes that worked out well but I’d also frequently try new things. I became extremely familiar with what I had available to me in terms of ingredients versus what I would need to purchase. I assembled huge binders full of recipes that I wanted to try out, printing them out, cutting them from food magazines (I subscribed to both Saveur and Food & Wine, and also Gourmet until it was canceled). Most weeknights I would spend at least an hour cooking and on weekdays I would usually make at least one meal per day as well. It felt normal. To be fair, the local restaurant scene where I was living at the time was pretty limited, although there were a couple of good options, so cooking did allow for greater variety. But I got really into it, thinking that I was a cooking person.

Then we moved to Chicago and I stopped. Almost completely.

At times I worry about this, wonder if writing will end up taking a similar path. If I am no more of a writer than I am a cook. If it will be something I just stop doing.

Of course, maybe that’s not the best way to look at it. Maybe I am both a writer and a cook but I’m not very good at going full bore at more than one thing at a time. And I am still much better at cooking then I was before my two year intensive, and hopefully I’m better at reading then when I started as well. And maybe if I did stop writing for a while that would be okay, I could come back to it. Just like I can still make a much better than average pizza when there is a call for such heroics, and can make a delicious caramelized black pepper chicken without straining myself.

Writing notes: I was going really strong for a while, working away like mad, and then yesterday I did a bit less and then today I did a lot less. I’m happy with how much I’ve got down though so I think it has been a good experiment doing this residency thing.

Reading notes: Continuing with Best American, also working my way through Rotters, which I’m enjoying.