Christmas Came Early!

Oh yes, that’s right, days before my favorite holiday of the year, Christmas arrived on my doorstep.

A few weeks ago, I randomly stumbled onto a Tweet mentioning a blog doing a YA book giveaway. Since I’m always looking for new YA books to read, and especially since that little train-time pledge to be more dilligent about posting here and reviewing books I read, I checked out the blog and entered the giveaway.

And I won!!!!

(I am totally the type of girl who NEVER wins anything, so this was extra exciting.)

The giveaway was from the lovely ladies at Short and Sweet Reviews, a review blog that specializes in concise-but-informative book reviews (which I find great in my time-strapped life).

I got five books in my first shipment, four that I had picked out of a list that Coranne emailed to me, and a fifth that was a surprise, based on what my other selections were.

Even Lucy was excited for this special delivery (she’s more interested in how books smell than what they’re about, but I appreciate her enthusiasm anyway).

A day or two later, a sixth book arrived, and I am now fully set with reading material for quite a few weeks! I’ve already read one book out of this package (Various Positions by Martha Schabas), which I loved and will be reviewing here shortly.

In the meantime, I invite you to check out Short and Sweet Reviews – they’re doing all sorts of giveaways right now, so you could be the next one to receive a stack of books in the mail! Thanks again, ladies!!

A Little Inspiration

This is me, holding myself accountable to the goal that I set of updating this weekly.

It’s tough, because right now is the moment when I want to drop off the face of the earth and hibernate from everything that takes even the tiniest bit of effort. And I think the point is, that’s when I should be pushing myself to do something.

After the end of NaNoWriMo, I’m feeling rather uninspired. I haven’t felt like dragging my notebook out to the bar or the coffeeshop. I tried blogging at 101 Achievements, and I felt like I almost forgot how. I haven’t sent a query, haven’t really done anything creative besides work on a Christmas present I’m making my husband (which, incidentally, is making me an anxious, uninspired mess) and read some YA books that leave me feeling, ‘Why can’t I have that?’

(The answer to ‘why can’t I have that’ is kind of simple, at least so far: because I’m not doing anything to really go anywhere. If I wind up failing after trying and trying, that’ll be something different. But now, I’m not even going the distance of making attempts, so NO WHINING, FOX.)

Oddly enough: December is generally my favorite month. But this year, I just can’t even get excited about it. Yes, I blame Pennsylvania weather mostly (we have been having torrential downpours and NO SNOW), but I have just been feeling like I’ve come down with an acute case of the severe blahs, and I need some inspiration.

Back when I was in undergrad, the creativity just flowed out of me like this December rain has been flowing over our clogged gutters (true story: I, the girl who can’t keep a cactus alive, has managed to allow a small tree to grow in my gutter, which is too high for us to reach ourselves). I was writing daily, sometimes a couple of times a day. I never left for the library without bringing my journal and my writing notebook to pull out during study breaks. And my beat-up writing notebook (which I still have) was full of lists, which I would write in these fantastic multi-colored pens.

My favorite list: “Things I Like.” My second favorite list: “Things that Inspire Me.”

“Things I Like” was a long list to which I was constantly adding. Some highlights: horses in full gallop. the way shiny pages feel. the sound of walking on gravel. running and then diving into bed. strangers that remind me of people i love. calling bartenders ‘darlin’.

The notebook is also full of half-sentences and unfinished thoughts and ideas that struck me on the way to class. There are writing prompts, a detailed list of funny events that happened on an overnight drive to Boston, and this group writing project from 2003 that features zombies, lactose-intolerant llamas, and Roddy Piper.

The last time I wrote in the notebook was 2009, shortly after I finished my first draft of Death & Biology and was starting to really get into the mythology of the supernatural side of the story. And then… that’s it. D&B has its very own notebook, and the fact is, outside of blogging and NaNoWriMo, I don’t write much besides it. And then, of course, is the fact that I feel so uninspired at present anyway.

The things that inspired me and made me feel alive in 2003 are very concrete, very accessible, and even now, a decade later, I can feel the magic of those things when I read the words written in five different colors. But what about what inspires me now?

~ writing in hotels
~ overnight train trips
~ scrawling in a notbeook at a dive bar
~ my Zen-space at Phipps Conservatory
~ under covers with a good book on a cold night
~ being in the woods
~ every significant snowfall ever
~ listening to Disintegration over and over and over
~ leaving it all on the floor at 80’s Night

How do I let these things slip away from me so easily? How did I go from the girl who was always scribbling something in a notebook to the girl who is so wrapped up in Matters of Consequence that she uses laundry as an excuse to put off working on her book?

As ‘grown-ups’ (and I use the term loosely, as last night I found myself getting jealous of our friends’ babies who will be receiving stuffed bears from us this Christmas – I probably like stuffed bears even more than those babies!), it’s so easy to get caught up in the shuffle and forget what really keeps us solid, keeps us grounded. And for some of us, what keeps us grounded is having our heads in the clouds. Sometimes, going after what we want means going wherever our heart manages to launch us.

And sometimes, making it in this world full of Matters of Consequence means holding onto a little black beat-up notebook that’s home to some really important words.

December Resolution time is upon us (which I’ll be talking about in a later entry – ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ aren’t really my thing), and I’m going to make one now: bringing the little black beat-up notebook back to life. Bringing back a list of inspirations back to life. Bringing that side of me who’s never too exhausted to wake up and write down that dream detail that might be important in a story ten years from now.

(I think I still even have those pens.)

The Strange Stillness of Midnight, December 1

Why, hello, December. I didn’t see you sneaking up there. It’s not very polite, you know, sneaking up on unsuspecting girls like that.

There’s always something strange about the way that midnight on December 1 feels. I know it’s not the impending holiday season magic, because for me, that starts the week before Thanksgiving at Pittsburgh’s annual Light Up Night. And I know it’s not the impending drama of trying to finish everything we haven’t finished on 101 Achievements (although ‘strange’ could definitely describe it).

No, the strangeness that hits at midnight on December 1 is definitely the stillness of the end of NaNoWriMo. At midnight, all typing ceases (except the excited posts on social media about being done), the weekly Write-Ins are a thing of the past, and you get that feeling that after the TGIO Party, you might not see some of your favorite people for the next 11 months.

But mostly, there’s the feeling of what now?? that hits. This was my 11th season of National Novel Writing Month, and I still feel the same as I did way back on December 1, 2002: what am I going to do with myself?

Of course, the answers to the question, ‘what am I going to do with myself now that I’m not trying to write a 50,000 word novel over the course of 30 days’ are plentiful:

~ Catch up on housework
~ Go out dancing
~ Get back to the gym
~ Stay up all night working on Rock Band drum technique
~ Update my blogs
~ Review things on Yelp
~ Sleep in
~ Stop dragging my laptop to karaoke and actually socialize with my friends there
~ Start working on Christmas crafts for my family

(Oh, and perhaps most importantly: GO BACK TO WORKING ON THE BOOK I’M TRYING TO PUBLISH.)

But it still feels weird. I feel a little strange not obsessively updating my Excel Spreadsheet that tracks my daily word counts. (Yes, I am the nerd who keeps that spreadsheet.) I miss refreshing Twitter to see when the next NaNo Word Sprint is starting. I woke up on a Sunday morning and didn’t have to cut and paste a massive list of Write-Ins and events for the week to send out to my WriMos before rushing off to work. And I don’t have any reason to not do laundry!

This year’s NaNoWriMo, in writing-terms, was made of fail. Yes, I hit 50,000 words (and I hit it a full day early this time, finishing just before midnight on 11/29), but it was a struggle to get there. What started out as a really promising idea became a lot of filler scenes while I tried to get the characters’ voices and personalities just right. But even that is an important lesson learned: world-building fantasy stories, for me, are not for the pressure of ‘get it written!’ time in November. While I think I may someday go back and revisit this novel for editing and polishing, I think it’ll be near the bottom of my list, when I have a LOT of free time (it’s still above my 2005 NaNoWriMo novel, although by how much, I can’t be sure).

But the month itself was a success. We had a bigger turnout for our Kick-Off and TGIO parties than EVER before in the 5 years I’ve been ML’ing (holy cow, has it been that long?) and certainly in the 11 seasons I’ve participated. We had a really awesome ‘writing under the influence’ night out at a bar/restaurant in Monroeville. I have gained more new Twitter pals than I would have thought possible over a 30-day period, and we’ve actually made Facebook groups in the hope of *not* having to wait 11 months to see each other again.

And so, when midnight hit on December 1, there was a little twinge of sadness in my heart. Yes, I was excited to have hit 50k and finished, and yes, I was excited to get back to doing all those *other* things I do in my life (except the laundry), but as much as I want November to be done while it’s going on, I also want it to never end. NaNoWrimo has been an important part of my life for over a decade now, and while it might just lose its magic if it was more than once a year, I still wish I could grab every minute of November 30th and stick it there in time so it didn’t end.

For now though, I’ve got to make the most of my non-NaNo time and keep polishing and querying and blogging here. I’ve got to leave behind Daniel and Jani’s world (sorry guys, your world was kind of lame, although I admit that one was mostly my fault), and dive back into Bridget and Alex and Simon’s world. And I’m happy about that, but I’m also sad. Because, you know, you can be both.

But right now, there’s one more thing on my NaNoWriMo plate, and that’s sending the month off as we started it: at midnight, with some of my favorite people. TGIO Party 2012 Round 2 starts in an hour, because sometimes, you just aren’t ready to fully say goodbye at midnight on December 1.