Saturday Summation – 20 May 2017

Bits and pieces of things that caught my eye not only for my own interest, but enough to want to share with you, too…

Reading Stuff:

James Patterson and Bill Clinton as co-authors on a novel? I might even read that when it comes out. What an interesting pairing. I got a kick out of Book Riot’s follow up post on “dream” president-novelist pairings, too.

In my last summation, I listed Still Life, the first of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books in my recommended reads. I chose to listen to it on audiobook, and I was hooked. Beautiful writing…and a narrator who truly gave it justice. I am hooked. I recently finished the second book and am excited to start listening to the third. I noticed that at some point, Ralph Cosham stopped narrating and I wondered what happened – and then found this article. He died in 2014. I’m so sad, knowing that eventually I’ll have to let him go. If you are an audiobook fan, who is a narrator you have grown especially attached to?

Writing Stuff:

I recently finished Becky Albertelli’s latest book, The Upside of Unrequited and loved it. I mean, it was great on many different levels and honestly, I can’t doubt at all that a good part of it was that, as this Slate article mentions, she had “totaled 12 sensitivity readers” for it. TWELVE. That’s getting due diligence right. I am really happy to see more articles popping up about sensitivity readers. There are still some who will still call it a “trend” (the same ones that say “diverse books” are a trend), and sadly, they are the same ones who won’t figure out WHO a sensitivity reader is when they attempt to find one for their own novels. But, for all the rest of the great writers and authors out there – yes to all of this attention to this area of beta reading.

A new trend in writing posts I’ve seen lately has writers questioning the emphasis on getting the first line and then the first five pages right. Dave King talks about the folly of nailing those first five pages, but then the rest of your story doesn’t match. I think, of course, that if you are an established author, those first five matter only slightly less. A debut author in some ways, only gets the one shot. But it is absolutely true that those five pages mean nothing if the rest of the novel can’t back it up.

Amy Nathan offers some good insights on the importance of more than mere find-replace when it comes to writing in on POV, then changing your mind and switching over to another. What I really think is interesting is that many might think that first person POV is the most personal and close one can get to a character, but she discovered that deep third person created a wider lens for readers to get to know her protagonist – and that is an important distinction to understand when doing a changeover in the drafting stage.

Some readers love character description – I have one crit partner who always comments on my manuscripts about wanting to know more about how my protagonist looks like in the opening pages. Yet, I am more like this author, and don’t care as much. I like to know distinguishing traits that might especially pertain to the story or how characters interact with one another, but beyond that, I’m good with filling in the blanks. And really, Edgerton’s comment in this post on how a reader firmly believed he had detailed a character’s physical description when he had not actually done so is fascinating. There’s more to this craft than flowery words, indeed.


Song of the Week:

My 10-year old has friends who know the Hamilton music soundtrack well, and he has been asking to listen to it forever. I’ve finally given in – insisting that we listen to it the first time around together. We’ve finished the first act and with all that we’ve been going through as a country in the past few months, I can’t help but always have this song in the back of my head.

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Saturday Summation – 06 May 2017

Bits and pieces of things that caught my eye not only for my own interest, but enough to want to share with you, too…

Hey. Long time no linking, yes? Let’s start getting back into the swing of things…

Writing Stuff:

One of these days I’m going to read my copy of Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel, but until then, I sure am glad he is a regular contributor to Writer Unboxed. His most recent post talks about pulling readers in through “spells, palls, and poisoned apples” – ie: having your characters become enthralled or embroiled which usually means the reader will fall in line with the same trap. Check out his guiding questions to get you going.

Looking for a concrete way to show not tell? Consider how your characters show love for one another. Fae Rowen gives some suggestions of how characters can show love through real life examples and fictional ones. I know this is one of my favorite ways to drop in character connections (and to read them… I definitely notice them even when the action isn’t explicitly explained) and I think it’s good to note that this kind of thing doesn’t have to mean romantic love; it can and should include friendships. Who doesn’t like to read about a best friend showing up with a bag of french fries and fountain Dr. Pepper to demonstrate how clearly they know you?

Author Jenny Cruisie frequently analyzes TV shows for storytelling techniques, but as agent Janet Reid says, movies are good, too, especially for their compact amount of time to hook and keep its audience. I mean, make sure you are using similar category movies to compare with what you write. Fast and Furious Nfinity isn’t going to help with the pacing in my Oprah-endorsed novel. (I don’t think it will help with any novel at all at this point, but, anyway…) For me, there’s pacing examples, but I most love movies that have balanced storytelling and authentic characterization (ie, not over-the-top, cliche, etc). Her is a good movie for this. That movie had you believing in love with an AI and the premise was probably the most realistic look at our future that I’ve seen in a while. Hidden Figures does a great job with compressing a timeline with authentic character behaviors and even though the end is a bit too Hollywood for my tastes, the rest of the drama was balanced in the ideas of Maas’ post I listed earlier – we are enthralled by both characters and situation. Anyway, check out more of what Reid says and the example movie she mentions.


Reading Stuff:

Here’s a thing… you know how when you’re looking at a product on Amazon and see the “add to cart” button… and often assume that it is automatically choosing the actual Amazon source link (as in, you’re getting it from Amazon, not a third party seller)? Turns out, this “buy” box is now a changeable thing. This may or may not matter on everything, but it turns out, it can affect an author’s book sales. I recommend reading the post for full explanations and details, but tl;dr upshot is: if you are buying books from Amazon, take a moment to help the author out and make sure the seller choice you click on really is from Amazon.


Publishing Stuff:

Chris O’Brien starts a post this week with “There is a current trend, specifically on LinkedIn, to pronounce certain careers dead.” And honestly, it’s a trend all around to pronounce things dead. What does that even mean, to claim something is “dead”. Once upon a time print books were on the verge of being “dead”. Land lines are now considered “dead”. Who even uses email anymore? Right? Well, you can imagine I will refute. And I do… but in this case, I will bring us back ‘round to O’Brien’s point in that the role of literary agents is not dead. At all. (And since were sort of on the topic, print books went back on the rise in the past couple of years. A RESURRECTION!) Probably the key point in his post is that, like any other profession and industry, literary agents have learned to adapt to the continuing changes.


Miscellaneous Stuff:

This is just kind of a miscellaneous thing to drop in here, but since we’re talking a bit about authenticity – Bill Gates has once again reminded us that he doesn’t think technology should overtake all parts of our lives. His kids (and hey, my kids, too!) didn’t have a smartphone unit age 14. Limit screen time. I like this article mostly because of the authentic nature. My partner and I are huge tech people, but I think because of that, we try to recognize its limitations, too. I think we sometimes expect the big tech giants to be all about tech all the time, but then we peek into their personal lives and think, huh, guess not! Also, for a long time I’ve really held a lot of respect for Bill and Melinda Gates.


Recommended Reads:

Yeah, so the last time I listed some recs was December, so though there were many I rated 4- and 5 stars, I’ve limited my list to those I wrote reviews:

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch (A) (my Goodreads review)

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie (A) (my Goodreads review )

Funny Girl – Nick Hornby (A) (my Goodreads review)

Truly, Madly, Guilty – Liane Moriarty (A) (my Goodreads review )

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas (YA) (my Goodreads review )

The Mothers – Brit Bennett (A) (my Goodreads review)

American Street – Ibi Zoboi (YA) (my Goodreads review)

Still Life – Louise Penny (A) (my Goodreads review)

The Upside of Unrequited – Becky Albertelli (YA) (my Goodreads review)

Currently reading: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold in print and A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny by audio.

Song of the Week:

My ten-year old told us his fourth grade class will be singing this song for their music concert next week. And as much as I sometimes grow tired of people responding to all who express their rage over what is happening in our country with “Be Kind!” as though fighting for justice is unkind… I can’t argue a group of elementary students singing this song by Lori McKenna (and don’t tell me it’s Tim McGraw’s, McKenna wrote it) and trying to emulate its spirit.

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Writing While White: Sensitivity Readers

First, I offer a scene in a current WIP of mine:

He thinks over the question. Does everyone hate him? Betsy’s voice talks in his head, telling him “hate” is too strong a word – she works with small children after all – but in truth, he doesn’t see much difference between hate and any other of the similar emotions that express dislike. If someone says they don’t like onions, then they avoid them at all costs, which seems pretty much like hating them, too. If a co-worker tells his boss that they hate working with him, but still does, he doesn’t see how it makes much difference.

As far as he knows, only one person in recent years has actually gone to his boss with such a strong complaint. Maybe everyone else feels the same way and his boss hasn’t told him. Justin usually keeps most of his thoughts to himself at work and imagines his own dialogues where he gets to say anything he wants and ask all the questions he wants to make people talk clearly. He already imagined the conversation between himself and colleague that hated him. It went something like this:

“I hate you.” (He realizes that this conversation already clearly marks the difference between his fantasy conversation and reality, but isn’t the sentiment clear? This way he can simply accept the statement and move on. It’s not that he is happy that this person hates him – or dislikes him or wants to avoid him like onions – but it’s not altogether pleasant to hear much more after such a declaration.)


“Do you want to know why?” (He figures some reality is necessary. He’s not going–)

“Justin?” Lucia’s voice cuts in, pulling him back outside of his head.


She smiles. “You kind of disappeared for a moment there.”

“I’m right-” he stops and punches his leg before he can reveal that even now, at age thirty, he still mixes up literal and metaphorical uses for verbs. He was going to say “I’m right here. I could not have disappeared.” But obviously that isn’t what she meant.

“Yes. I do that sometimes. I don’t know if everyone hates me. They haven’t told me.”

She nods as though she miraculously understands. “I’d rather just hear someone tell me how they feel rather than them being all passive-aggressive about it.”

She only sort of understands, but it’s something. He tries to ignore the slight lift of his heart.

“Well,” he says, “I wouldn’t know if someone was acting passive-aggressively. I’m not very good at figuring out emotions that aren’t obvious. For example, I really have no idea if your comment just now was passive-aggressive. For that matter, I don’t actually understand what ‘passive-aggressive’ is. I mean, I know what it means, but whole concept still confuses me.”

This character, Justin, is one of two protagonists in this piece. Some might have guessed that he has some degree of autism. Have I done him justice? Fairly? Balanced? Without stereotype? I’m trying to do so, but as a neuro-typical writer, I can’t be sure. Naturally, I have lots and lots more research to do before this even gets out of discovery draft stage, and then after that, when this finally gets to penultimate draft stage, I will be in search of what is called a sensitivity reader for one of my beta readers.

What is a sensitivity reader, you ask? Author Natalia Sylvester gives a lot more detail and useful information in her post on Writer Unboxed, but basically is someone who is a part of a population that you are not, but you have written about. For example, when the time comes, I will want at least one person – preferably male – who has autism to read my manuscript about my character, Justin. That reader can help flag areas that don’t ring true and more importantly, let me know where I’ve gone off the rails and leaned too heavily on inaccurate stereotypes or other biases.

You see, as a writer within the dominant population groups (neuro-typical, able-bodied, cis-gendered, straight, white) I need to be especially aware of how I am portraying my characters who are from marginalized populations because really, how irresponsible is it to just mix it all up and misrepresent? How many times have you picked up a book and gotten angry at how the author has gotten you all wrong? If you are reading this, and you aren’t white, I know this happens All. Of. The. Time.

A friend of mine shared this meme awhile back on FB, and while it is an obvious exaggeration, I’m pretty sure many female readers can relate:


Do you see how this feels? Can we imagine something like this for a black reader always reading about how he is big, intimidating, and so often the bad guy? Can we imagine something like this for the Asian-American girl who is always portrayed as small and meek? If something as basic as a male writer constantly sexualizing his female characters can annoy us as female readers, what must it be like for a reader in a twice marginalized population where they are put inside a box that symbolizes years and years of misrepresentation?

Writing the Other and doing it well has gotten a lot more attention recently, and even better is that the concept of hiring sensitivity readers for our manuscripts has made it to public news. NPR had this article about growing use of sensitivity readers, and the last bit of it is my takeaway line from it: “Because people don’t realize the power of words and the power of bad representation — it can haunt people.” And before that there was this one from the Chicago Tribune – “[Dhonielle] Clayton, who is black, sees her role as a vital one. ‘Books for me are supposed to be vehicles for pleasure, they’re supposed to be escapist and fun,’ she says. They’re not supposed to be a place where readers ‘encounter harmful versions’ and stereotypes of people like them.” The key in there is understanding the word “harmful”, as in, doing damage in how we represent a population that is different than ourselves.

Writing “diversely” – or what would be nice to start recognizing as writing authentically – continues to ride the forefront of critical issues facing fiction writers today, and some authors and writers are expressing fear of even trying to write authentic worlds. What if we get it wrong?

Well, without question, we’ll get it wrong. We’re always going to get something wrong, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing the best we can. In truth, this fear is a good thing, because it gives us more motivation to do our due diligence with characters and situations that are not within our immediate life experience. It means we absolutely should avail ourselves of sensitivity readers to help us get as much of it right as we can.

Publishing is already skewed towards white authors, which is hugely problematic as it is, so if we are going to skate on this privilege, the absolute least we can do is to try to offer the most authentic representation we can in our stories.

I cannot deny that I, too, am worried about how my stories will be received by readers who fall into the marginalized populations. One of my manuscripts features a main character who is trans-female and another who is a bisexual, Latino male. One of my beta readers is transgender and that was absolutely by design. His feedback was essential. I have another manuscript where the protagonist is Latina, which is core to that story. Numerous times I have debated with myself on whether or not I have a right to tell her story – because let’s be honest, Latina authors do not need me to tell their story, and many would never want me to. I have a couple of people in mind to ask (hire) as sensitivity readers when the time comes, and maybe that will help me decide whether it should even be presented for public consumption.

In other words, I feel that same fear that other authors and writers have expressed. It’s a good thing. I mean, it shouldn’t paralyze us to the point that we don’t even include Other characters in our stories at all, because that’s counterproductive. But it does ensure that I put in the effort to get it right – or at least as right as I can. Having reservations is okay. How we deal with those reservations is key to producing the best manuscript possible. It prepares us for the inevitable criticism… which will then help us do better the next time.

As a final note, a resource: Author Justina Ireland started up a database of sensitivity readers for hire. Lots of possibilities and ever so helpful in trying to connect with one. Fantastic resource and many thanks to both Ireland and those who have been entered into the database.

Thoughts? Or maybe you have criticisms for my writing sample at the beginning? Feel free to give me what I need to hear on that, too.

This song is so appropriate for many things right now, and it works for this, too. History has its eyes on us, let’s not be willfully ignorant and mess it up, eh?





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Commit – Continued.

 So, January happened.


I considered writing a post about “how to write while the world is effed up”, but there are already lots of posts out there like that and let’s be real, though they might be doing wonders for others, they aren’t actually helping me. Advice, have I none.

Instead, I’m remembering my one-word resolution, “COMMIT”. It’s time to put words to the page, even if it’s only a few words a day. I know writing helps me. I know it. So, time to commit.

I’ve got my current manuscript playlist going as I continue my efforts to put running in as a regular routine – or even walking – and I will get there.

Perhaps I should re-open a manuscript I started a while back, but set aside. Maybe starting fresh will be the way to go. Maybe gleaning some optimism that my current manuscript doesn’t need a major overhaul is enough to energize me. Who knows? All I can do is commit to trying.

And the beautiful thing about writing is that reading is a necessary part in developing the craft. How lucky that I have several books to recommend as a result of so much studying!

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch (A) (my Goodreads review)

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie (A) (my Goodreads review)

I Was Here – Gayle Forman (YA) (my Goodreads review)

Funny Girl – Nick Hornby (A) (my Goodreads review)

And so, a few words at a time, with books to nourish, I commit to the writing thing that has known, positive results.

And if you are lost, may you find your way again soon, too. I am rooting for you!

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The One Word Resolution – 2017: Commit

Things that make me especially happy and a bit grateful today:

  1. My whole family and I having today off.
  2. Having another week before I start a class.

As one who works in education, I am also ever grateful for winter break and even more thankful and appreciative when a district opts for a calendar that allows for 2 full weeks off. I am not currently in a position where I desperately need this full 2 weeks, but I remember the days of teaching in the classroom and noticing a huge difference at having 2 weeks off instead of a week and a half or even just over a week. I know that in many ways this time off is a privilege, but I’m not going to back away from the ever-present argument that teachers put in gobs of hours and in order to serve our children best, this perk is well-deserved.

With this kind of grace period, the desire to make New Year’s Resolutions grows. I’ve written before about my take on New Year’s Resolutions – and I haven’t really changed my stance on it except that a couple of years ago, I remember reading about the idea of a single-word resolution. The idea is to find a single word that you can focus your energy around that might make all list-style resolutions act as stepping stones.

Two years ago I chose invest. I was in a company that I started to feel uncertain about and had a role that was one part rewarding, one part draining. As a firm believer in “you get what you give”, I knew that the more I put into making the job better for myself, the more I would get out of it. Invest. It applied to a lot of other aspects of my life, too.

I seemed to have skipped it last year, but I wanted to come back to it again this year. My word this year? Commit.

I feel like I’ve been sort of wishy-washy with some of the areas in my life in the past months and recognized that I needed a change. I’ve already enacted some of this in the past month. For example, I’ve been wanting to become a runner again, so 3 weeks ago I started taking advantage of the indoor tracks at my district’s high schools and dove into a Couch-to-5K program – I’m in week 4! I’ve also enrolled in a class to start on a path to an additional licensure and there are a couple of other areas I really want to simply commit myself to so that I can make things happen.

When I originally read about this idea, it was suggested that you write the word down somewhere you can see it easily and frequently, to encourage you to keep on track. That’s my next step today.


What about you? What one word will you use for your year-long resolution? I’d love to read about it below in the comments!

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Saturday Summation – 10 December 2016

Bits and pieces of things that caught my eye not only for my own interest, but enough to want to share with you, too…

This is kind of a minimalist summation post. I’ve struggled with writing anything at all in the past month, even these more basic Summation posts. So I’ve plucked a couple that have really stuck with me and threw in some recent recommended reads:

Reading Stuff:

Buzzfeed had an article Alanna Bennett that talked of the generation that grew up with Harry Potter and its current relationship with the HP world. I felt it gathered my thoughts pretty well – as a writer/author, I totally get the desire to continue in a world that gave you so much back in so many ways, but personally, I kind of feel like Rowling might have done better to leave it all well enough alone. And yet… I read the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script and mostly enjoyed it (there was one key point that I didn’t like as well, the foundation for the story in the first place – it’s a little tired), and I went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them  – mostly because my youngest was soooper excited to see it. I enjoyed it more than I expected, but am still troubled with Rowling’s lead up to it with her American magical lore and co-opting, unsuccessfully, Native American/First Nations ideas. So you see, I’m conflicted and basically continue to circle back on “how about concentrate on your Cormoran Strike series, instead” camp. What do you think?

Writing Stuff:

Kate Moretti shared a post a while back on preserving our creative selves in times of trouble that spoke to me. I haven’t been overly successful with her suggestions, but I appreciate them and even though words have not been making their way back into my routine, I have dedicated energy into different endeavors (especially professionally) that has helped.

Recommended Reads:

Echoes of Family – Barbara Claypole White (A) (my Goodreads review)
The Moon in the Palace – Weina Dai Randel (A)

When the Moon Was Ours – Anna-Marie McLemore (YA)

Currently reading: Exit Signs by Patrice Locke, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, and listening to my first Jack Reacher novel: Killing Floor by Lee Child

Song of the Week:

Yesterday, at the end of my walk, a song from the playlist of one of my novels came on that I had only recently added and it was a catalyst for ideas on how to revise that particular one. I set it on repeat during my drive home from the indoor track in order to keep the brain going. And now I have hopes that soon – maybe this weekend – I’ll actually get some words down to support those ideas.

“Be Here Long” – Needtobreathe:

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Nature and Music: Nurturing the Writerly Soul

I meant to write this up and post it last Monday – you know, back when I felt hope and optimism – but since this little writing story started with music and ended with music, and because more music came my way this weekend, it’s coming to you now.

A couple of weekends ago, I had the unexpected pleasure of spending the day on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus to read, write, walk, and hang about while my oldest son rehearsed with many high school peers from around the state (and beyond, obviously, since we’re from Minnesota). It was a gorgeous weekend as we’ve been having unseasonably warm and sunny days this fall.

I’d been struggling with finishing the current draft of a novel. I was THIS CLOSE to the end, but could not quite get the words out. The first thing that helped (although, admittedly it was more helpful for how to transition into Book 2 of this duology than with how to end Book 1) was my son’s high school Gala concert. It’s a yearly fundraising concert that features the top band, orchestra, and choral groups. In other words, some beautiful music.

And so, the following Saturday, I was determined to squeeze the words out, no matter what. I settled in at the UWEC student center – Davies Center and stared at the page. Then outside. Then the page. And then, a student started playing the piano on the second level. It was perfect. “Hallelujah” and “How Great Thou Art” and something else that I didn’t recognize. It was perfect. My main character finds solace in a piano and it seemed quite fitting. I tweeted this out:


I found out later that the university chancellor favorited it and retweeted it, which got me a lot more favorites, but even more interesting was this follow up tweet:


Sorry, Chancellor Jim. Didn’t mean to stir things up.

(Here’s the piano in question, by the way. Not gonna deny it does look like a nice one, though I don’t know much about them…):


And so, with that inspiration, I changed over my playlist to my David Lanz one on Pandora.

Was that the cure?

Well, no.

I had lunch with my son, tried some more, with no success, and then decided to take a break. I went on a hike at the nature preserve:


Stopped to walk out on this jutting out rock:


And stared at the cool pattern in the river for a bit.


Kept going and saw this ahead:



Doesn’t it remind you of a space that Anne and Diana (of Anne of Green Gables) would play in? That then encouraged me to take a break on this bench and read for a bit:


The book: When the Moon Was Ours by Anne-Marie McLemore (I recommend)

Now, I thought, now I am ready. I headed back to the student center and, well, I’d like to say the words suddenly flowed out, magically, but they did not. I persevered, however, and managed out 1200 words, which is great, if only it hadn’t taken all day.

The temporary reward, though, was listening to this group play:


And the good news is that the next day I DID finish. Boy, I needed that because just two days later was the election, and I haven’t been able to write anything at all since then. I’ve not even wanted to try.

And now, I want to try. Words are my fuel and they are my voice. While I cannot always express myself in the ways I want to in essay or verbal form, I can do it in fiction. I am not sure what will happen when I put myself in front of a blank page again, but after another Honor Band concert at St. Olaf College this past weekend…


…I have hope again that I can do this writing thing.

For my song, I could have gone with a piano version of Hallelujah, and I do love that song, but I’ll go with the other from that day, How Great Thou Art.


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