Shakespeare Stuff

You know how werewolves show themselves at the full moon? That’s my Shakespeare geek status today on his birth/death day. Instead of mourning my past days on the stage or shivering at the memory of writing my Master’s thesis, I’ll point you to a recent project celebrating Shakespeare’s heroines that I compiled and edited over on Books that Shook Us. I was absolutely bowled over by the entries we received and am so pleased to share it with you.

All the best from me, your resident Shakespeare geek who has a stuffed version of Billy on her desk at work.

Random Lines Poem

Thanks to all that contributed! I put all of the individual lines into a list randomizer, took the first item on the randomized list as the title, and added stanza breaks. Behold, our Frankensteinian creation and happy National Poetry Month!

 

“Must this story be retold?”

But when we forgot coffee, we lost ourselves.
I’ll only eat BK and wear Reebok shoes.
There’s nothing I want more than to be like you.
(You were, the past tense.
Even been askin’ Phil Jackson how I can improve.
My lips don’t get dry thinking about you.
I am, the present tense.)

My lifeless body lies in a pool of blood–
Living the dream being 7 feet 2.
I’m sorry if things are tense but
Cling to me–

The animals breathe as one.
I take that answer graciously
like a wet swimsuit.

For now, you are my phantom
and I don’t shave my legs for you.
If all that glitters isn’t gold,
you say our love can never be.
But it always comes down to wordplay with you.

 

 

March Wrap-Up and Bad Poetry Line Request

Reading Wrap-Up

Books Read: 10

Audiobooks: 2

ARCs: 3

Memoirs: 2

Books read for my Goodreads Goal: 33/75 (may have to adjust upward!)

Books left in my A-Z Reading challenge: 8 (D,E,I,K,P,Q,X,Y,Z)

Best of the Month: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Runners-up: Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, and Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Writing Wrap-Up

Manuscripts turned over to the powers that be: 1

Pieces accepted for publication: 2 (1 pending, one here)

New things outlined: 1

Words written on new thing: 4,594

Embarrassing poems and stories from high school and college perused while cleaning out my hard-drive: ∞

Conclusions made about embarrassing poems and stories from high school and college: I had a lot of feelings and very little skill in writing high fantasy

Excerpt of moody high school poetry:

Cling to me

Like a wet bathing suit.

And even worse, moody college poetry:

My insides no longer pepsi-mentos when I think about you

But just like it’s fun to look back on old pictures, it is strangely satisfying to look back on stuff you wrote– and loved– a long time ago.

I would love to have a share your worst line of old poetry contest, posted here on the blog.  I would love to see excerpts of the worst stuff you had back in the day. Thoughts? Comment yours in the comments and I’ll try to collect them into a fantabulous found poem of lost lines. Post by midnight on 4/7 and I’ll get something compiled.

 

 

Shiny New Things and Slumps

I got a project successfully off to prom and immediately spent the next week stewing and miserable. I stomped around the house and sighed a lot and refreshed my email like I was giving it rescue breaths. Yesterday, I started outlining something and felt that pressure ease almost immediately.

But I feel that slump sneaking up on me, and I still feel it at my shoulder, ready to strike if I let it. To combat this, I’ve set some daily word goals and will be doing Camp NaNoWriMo in April. Also, I just decided to let this project be a little zany. The real world provides enough stress without writing something too serious right now.

Hope all of your projects are going well!

Revision Tricks and Tips: Or, How to Make Your Manuscript Less Awkward than I was at Senior Prom

I finished a new first draft a month ago. My beautiful baby novel went through the wash once, and then I sent it off to school (aka, my betas). It came back to me marked up with all of the writing tics I forgot I had and some that I

awk prom
Awkward picture of me at my senior prom. I can only assume if my manuscripts were personified, they would look about as awkward as me as an eighteen year old. (Photo credit, or blame, Megan Sugrue)

must have just added to my repertoire. My baby novel is growing up, and I need to pretty it up before I let it go to prom ( I don’t know if my agent thinks of herself that way, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯).

I’d love to hear about your revision processes, and since sharing is caring, I’ll go first:

  1. I never send out anything from a draft until I finish the whole thing first. I need to get from A-Z before I realize that I skipped letters J-T and need to tidy it up.
  2. After I finish my first draft, I reread to make sure the pacing works and there aren’t any obvious plot holes.
  3. I print the manuscript— the whole dang thing– and hand it off to a small round of betas. These folks let me know the obvious bone-headed things I did, point out a few grammar things, and give an overall reaction. Does it read like a book? Did you get bored? Where? If you’re working with betas for the first time, I find it helps to give them a set of questions or concerns to read for. If someone just asks me, “What did you think?” I don’t know what to zoom in on.
  4. I take the paper copies, marked up with their notes, and reread the manuscript. Often I’ll find places to cut or deepen, and I interact with their notes. I start to find my “most-used” words and phrases and places where the voice feels off for a particular character.
  5. Then I take a little break. I read, I actually go to the gym, I grade papers (blerg). I took a week off this time, and probably should have taken more, but I missed my characters. By the time that I got back to the page, I had at least a little distance and could start to cut my darlings (sorry metaphor about melting ice cream!) At this step, I start to check for sentence and word variety. I make a Wordle to come up with my most-used words. I check for passive voice, or lazy metaphors (too many ‘likes’
    was
    Gee, thanks, MS Word.

    makes me feel like a Valley Girl, even if a poetic one).

  6. Finally, I put on my grown-up-writer-pants and send the newly polished manuscript, which I feel pretty good about at this point, to my nails-tough betas/CPs. They often give me line-level comments with lots of question marks and “Did you notice that you…”s in them.
  7. I apply critiques where I see fit, put the MS aside, and then forward the whole thing to my Kindle for a final read-through on a platform that looks like a book. Reading the MS like I would something for pleasure changes my perspective in a way that helps for my final read through.

I’m still working through the final beta-reads and tweaks for this manuscript, but hopefully by the time it leaves my inbox it will be less awkward than my prom pictures, like this one where I inexplicably have a lightsaber.

lightsabers cut
Post-prom was at Dave and Busters. No judgement.

What steps work for you when you revise?

Reading and Writing Wrap-Up for February

The Month in Numbers:

Books read: 11

Audiobooks: 3

Nonfiction: 3

Birthdays this month: 1

Girls Nights Out: 3

Hours spend editing new project: 43

Papers graded: 85

Most steps in one day: 14,534

Details

Best Books of the Month: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (how had I never read Waters before?) , Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (I could have read entire novels in each perspective), and The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (read more than half of this in the airport. I had a 7 hour flight delay in the airport on my way out to AWP…)

Funny story: I have a toddler who is just learning to talk. She was obsessed with the cover of Homegoing and kept bringing the book to me during play time. I taught her to say “Yaa” when she did that. I think she might be Gyasi’s youngest cheerleader.

I’m obsessed with #audiobaking… baking while listening to audiobooks. I made thin mint brownies and snickerdoodles this month while listening to VE Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light.

endfeb2017-027feb2017-098

Loved running into friends at AWP in February! (waves) I’m already mourning the fact that I probably can’t go next year, but hopefully I’ll be there in 2019 (geez does that sound like a long time away).

I finished the first draft of a new novel (hooray!). It’s now with my trusty and very honest beta-readers.  I can’t read anything in my genre while I write and polish, so I’ve been reading a LOT of excellent sci-fi and fantasy lately. I’d love some more recommendations. I’m going to read the Jemison’s Obelisk Gate and Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, but I’d love more recommendations for what to read after those!

Speaking of the writing and reading life, I’m proud to announce that my partners at the Litsy Feminist Book Club and I have started a review site over at Books That Shook Us. We’re looking for submissions of book reviews, so see that site for more details.

Happy March, everybody!

Great Expectations, Realistic Love Life

 

My husband and I aren’t, and never really have been, all that romantic. It was like a seminar that we both missed. The main issue is our relationship is a case of Midwest pragmatism doubled. For example, my husband once came to a theatrical performance of mine when we were dating. He decided not to bring me flowers. Flowers, he reasoned, would be annoying to carry around after the show ended. Instead, he brought me a five-pound plastic tote of fresh apples. As you might expect, a five pound bag of apples was even a bit more awkward than flowers to bring to a cast party. My friends were stunned.”Hey, hey, Rach. Saw your boyfriend came… oh. Well, those are… autumnal.”

The apples were delicious though. I made a pie, and obviously, a memory.

Now, five years into our marriage, we dug into our son’s Valentine’s Day haul and turned on some Bob’s Burgers. If you had told me ten years ago that I would be thrilled to spend this hyped, greeting-card holiday this way, I would have raised an eyebrow, but that was because ten years ago I hadn’t met the realistic, anti-hype man that I married and because Bob’s Burgers didn’t start yet, duh.

When love gives you apples, make apple pie. Love doesn’t always look like flowers.

via Daily Prompt: Expectation

Birthdays, Brothers, and The Bone Witch

It’s my birthday today. Adult birthdays are kind of a funny thing. Just like no one really cares if you’re sick  unless you get everyone sick at the office, no one really knows you have a birthday unless you bring treats. I’m not at the office today, so no treats.

Birthdays have been bittersweet for me for a while. It’s not so much my fear of aging — I’ve been getting gray hairs since I was twenty and my mother is an adorable silver fox. Birthdays, for me, changed when I was eight.

It was Superbowl night, two days before my eighth birthday, and my family ordered a party sub. Life was good. My brother, aged sixteen, was challenging himself to see how many cocktail weenies he could eat and my sister, aged fourteen, pretended to be disgusted. Just a few hours later, we would be heading to the hospital, my brother suddenly ill with something too severe to treat at home. Feverish, pale– something was wrong, and it wasn’t the food.

My mother picked me up from school on my eighth birthday, and I should have known something was wrong right away because she offered to get me a milkshake. Even on a birthday, a milkshake in February is a suspicious offer in the Midwest. Over our ice cream, she told me my brother had been diagnosed with lymphoma. The word brought to mind tree limbs. Now, adult me thinks that wasn’t a bad way to think about it. Now that I’ve seen pictures of the circulatory system, the branches in our own bodies look so fragile. His blood wasn’t working well, my mother said. Broken blood seems like an easy way to explain something terrible to a child.

We had Sizzler for dinner and opened presents at his bedside in the hospital. Less than a month later, he would be dead– not from the cancer itself, but from the chemotherapy.

bone-witchI finished an ARC of Rin Chupeco’s THE BONE WITCH last night (out March 7… review here). The main character, Tea, discovers her dark abilities by raising her brother from the dead. He follows her, not quite living and not quite dead, through her training and adventures. He becomes her familiar and her protector, and by the end of the novel, the relationship becomes even more complicated (you can be sure I’ll be picking up the next in the series).

This inciting incident, the raising her brother from the dead, happens very early in the novel and Tea’s grief and power brought tears to my eyes when I read it. I understood her, that moment of wanting. It’s something I still experience occasionally today, but I couldn’t raise him.

As a child, I remember seeing Aladdin and a certain moment stuck with me. The Genie squared his fingers and pretended to be making a recording. I practiced the gesture, the squaring, and pretended as a child that when I made this motion anything I saw would be projected somewhere that my brother could see it. When I say I pretended as a child, I will admit that I also did this on my college graduation day and on my wedding day and on the day when I had my first child. The wanting makes it feel real.

My brother died twenty-one years ago this year. My grief is old enough to drink at this point, but the wound re-cuts itself at odd moments. It follows you, ghosts you, becomes your familiar whether you want it to or not. Memories of him reading with me, chasing me, and pretending to captain a boat to distant lands come at strange times. He made pigs in a blanket when he babysat. He made up elaborate scavenger hunts in the back yard. He would have loved to be an uncle to the new generation of mischievous kids in our family.

jess
I am the little dinosaur

Having a birthday means the beginning of a new year in my life, but it also brings to mind the other cakes and candles blown out. I am having a happy birthday, but I’m also having a thoughtful one. I believe books find us when they are supposed to, and memories do, too.

 

Smells like Home

 

Scent is a funny thing. When we’re immersed in something– all day, every day– we don’t sense it any more. One of my first jobs was at a sandwich restaurant chain. When I was at the restaurant, elbow deep in cold cuts, I never noticed the smell. I never smelled it until I was home. I was like PigPen from Peanuts, except for instead of a cloud of dust, it was a cloud of bread-smell and red onions.

I think the time when I realized that everyone’s house smells different was the time I started to grow up. So, walking into other people’s houses as a kid, I realized– oh, they think THIS smells like home. Potpourri or spaghetti sauce or lemon pledge or whatever it was that I noticed, it wasn’t what home smelled like to me. It wasn’t until I would sleep over at a friend’s house and then go home that I could really notice what my home smelled like.

My mother has always been really sensitive to scents. She doesn’t use perfume or anything with added fragrance. My mother was also allergic to dust, so our house didn’t exactly smell like that either. If I had to characterize the smell, it might be the smell of paper and ink and bodies– there were six of us at home, including two teenage boys. It was kind of like the smell of the far-back stacks of a library.

Growing up, I was always a little envious of homes that smelled like something bold. Cinnamon-scented candles and essential oils– they all seemed so magical. I asked for scented candles for Christmas one year, and lined them up in my room unlit. A little shrine to my hope for a home that smelled like somewhere else.

I’m an adult now and could design some sort of scent environment. I could curate a museum of smells, but I know I would come to ignore it. It would become to commonplace, even if it were a tour of all of the citrus plants I can imagine (orange in the kitchen, maybe; lemon in the bathroom; grapefruit chamomile in the bedroom). I wouldn’t notice it any more. Instead, I think my house now smells a lot like my house growing up– except more dusty. I’m terrible at dusting.

There’s joy in the simple smells that appear in my life– my toddler’s hair after a bath, the fresh bread cooling on the counter. There’s nothing fighting for attention from those bursts of joy.

What does home smell like to you?

 

via Daily Prompt: Scent

Five Tens

  1. I’m at ten books read so far this year, and those ten have already dragged me through the dirt a bit. The Sellout made me gasp–the audiobook is worth every penny. We Eat Our Own by Kea Wilson was a stunning debut; her prose sings. Just finished The Fifth Season for Litsy Feminist Bookclub and it may be the best fantasy novel I’ve ever read. Pick yourself up a copy, if you haven’t yet. (our discussions begin mid-February! Still time to join!)
  2. My ten fingernails still have dirt under them. I’ve been digging around in my new succulent containers and the smell of potting soil makes me wish it were May already.
  3. I walked nearly ten-thousand steps today, and half of those were snow-shoveling. When I pulled into my driveway after a long day, I noticed the wind undid my work, but at least the steps remained.
  4. I graded ten papers today. Usually I grade in purple pen, but I’m out, so it’s old-school red here and it rubbed off on my fingertips.
  5. I’ve got ten unpublished drafts sitting in my blog-history. Abandoned half-thoughts that might get developed eventually.

At least this prompt got me to finish– although I started it as ten-tens. Another ten is here, and this one means I need to brush my teeth and get to bed.

via Daily Prompt: Ten