Monday Minutiae – 02.03.20

Sloppy Copy

This week I wrote “THE END” on my 4th manuscript—the crappy first draft, or “sloppy copy” as I and other English teachers have used in the past. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t actually type the words, “THE END”. In fact, I never do. I don’t know why. What I do know is this is the fourth time finishing a draft (actually, sixth, if you count the two kids’ chapter books I’ve also drafted, which why wouldn’t I include those? Because that makes six books I haven’t published, that’s why). This time around, while a good feeling, was not quite as exhilarating, probably because for the first time ever, by word count alone, it is too short. OTOH, I already know ways I will deepen the layers and this will even it all out. The hard part right now is CLOSING the document and letting it sit so I can look at it with fresh eyes in a couple of weeks and do the part I like best: revision!

Book Report

Please don’t be this person in your critques or your reviews:

I also think the author tried too hard to keep it ethnically diverse. When the friend’s fiancée was also black in addition to mixed, Hispanic, white, and bi-sexual, the details were a little unbelievable.”

If your character is Irish, Norwegian, Polish, German, white AND straight, I simply won’t buy into him.

The quote above came from a review of a book by a black author. White people don’t usually think of themselves as “mixed”, and yes, the term usually refers to race, but I think my counterexample gets across the point.  Do we really think a multi-racial bisexual man doesn’t exist? I’ve had people tell me that my story with a woman who has a transgender best friend and a bisexual husband is “too many”. Do readers really believe my transgender friends and relatives live in isolation from one another? That my friends of color can’t be more than one thing?

My favorite piece on bias in book reviews is still this one by author Malinda Lo. In 2020, when #ownvoices authors—especially in adult fiction—still can’t get a fair shot in publishing, we white readers can do our part by recognizing our bias and do better with our reviews.

Persuasive Essay

The past few weeks have seen a lot of talk about Jeanine Cummins’ debut, American Dirt. I’m not going to summarize it all here, you can find plenty about it in the interwebs, but I do want to highlight one article I read. A library in Corpus Christi, Texas, was chosen to be part of a pilot program to partner with Oprah’s book club (which is currently featuring Cummin’s novel) and other prominent organizations. Upon learning of the issues the Latinx community had with the novel, the librarian chose to withdraw from the pilot program. This is allyship.

“I Can Do Hard Things”*

One of the best things I’ve seen so far this year has been at one of my local YMCA branches. A woman who is probably in her mid-to late fifties is learning to swim. She has been doing water walking for quite some time and a couple of weeks ago, she dunked her head under water for the very first time in I don’t know how many years. We all cheered! Sometimes our bucket list includes extravagant things, and other times it looks like this woman. May we all find a way to face at least one of our fears in the coming year.

Currently Reading (audio):I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

Currently Reading (print): 10 Minutes and 39 Seconds in This Strange World – Elif Shafak

*Borrowed from my elementary school’s daily pledge.

Song of the Week:

Our local high school’s Wind Ensemble is performing at the Minnesota Music Educator’s Association conference in a couple of weeks and they gave us a preview performance. They sounded amazing. I kind of wanted to post their performance of Rhapsody in Blue, because, wow, but this one – Einstein on 6th Street is much shorter and equally impressive. 🙂

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Monday Minutiae – 01.13.20

Vocabulary Lists

The last few years I’ve joined in on the One-Word-Resolution thing and it’s worked better for me than any list of resolutions I pretended to stick to in the past. Last year’s word was PERSEVERE and it was definitely one I had to work at in various areas of my life. It kind of tired me out in the last couple of months, which has led me to a gentler one for this year: FLOW. I’m leaning into my personal motto of “It’ll all work out” and allowing myself the slower transition to some professional changes and taking deep breaths as I prepare to query my latest novel. Traditional publishing is pretty challenging these days and I’m determined to face obstacles with grace and clarity. (Yeah, right.)

Annotated Bibliography

Last year when I reviewed my books read and examined my efforts to read more books authored by #ownvoices, I was disappointed with my numbers. This year, I made many more conscious choices and when I saw or heard of a book by an #ownvoices author that caught my interest, I put it on hold right away at the library (or in some cases, purchased the book, of course) instead of simply putting in my TBR list. (Fun fact: I just looked at my post about my reading stats from last year and basically wrote that EXACT same sentence. HA! Oh, well, I’m leaving it in because it’s still a valid method for me to keep those choices front and center.

 )Unfortunately, though my stats are still good, it only went up by a very small margin. Luckily, it’s a fun goal to improve upon! So Many Good Books out there.

#ownvoices stats from 2018
#ownvoices stats from 2019

Secondary Sources

I remember reading a year or two ago about the American history textbooks used in a Texas school district using the phrase “guest workers” for slaves. They have since fixed this horrific portrayal, but it came to mind when I read this article in the NYT that did a comparison of two textbooks from the same publisher for different states. It’s an enlightening read about what kinds of differences exist and why it happens. For me, it prompted a reminder that this is one of many ways we have to pause and consider where someone is coming from in their opinions/arguments.

Currently Reading (print): The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park (YA)

Currently Reading (audio): in-between books right now

Song of the Week:

Here’s a song from my playlist…I think it kind of goes with my 2019 word; also, I am THIS CLOSE to writing “The End” on my current WIP, and “Almost Home” seems like a good way to phrase how things are feeling right now. 🙂

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The Best Way to Fail At Your Resolutions

One way to become a better reader is to read more.

One way to become a better writer is to write more.

The best way to write more is to, uh…write more.

Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?

For someone who loves writing—the rush of characters saying and doing things almost of their own free will, creating beautiful turns of phrase, coming up with that perfect plot point—it sure is remarkable how easy it is to stop.

Over the course of the past year I’ve given myself permission to take breaks for lots of reasons. I started a new manuscript last July which I’m really excited about. The format (epistolary – I’m aiming for 100% non-standard narrative) slows me down at times, but it’s fun and has a lot of potential.

Inevitably, until I get to about the 50% mark in a draft, I often falter. Then sputter. Then, _______________________________________ (< — that’s a flatline, btw. Aren’t I great with visuals??) If I didn’t know this was inevitable, all I would need to do is search through my multiple blog posts where I’ve addressed this exact same issue. (Drone on, much, Janet?)

Usually I come upon the flatline point because I am suddenly neck-deep in work or family or nothing-at-all stuff, leaving me with the ridiculous challenge of starting back up in a story I’ve sort of left fading away.

Here’s where I finally explain my blog post title.

For the past couple of months, maybe even three, I was thinking my 2019 resolution was BELIEVE. And man, I have been trying really hard. I’d even been having more success at it than when it was actually my resolution…in 2018.

I’m embarrassed to say I forgot what my word was this year. PERSEVERE.

The good news is in some areas of my life, I’ve been doing great with this resolution. I’ve needed to get my game on and persevere. Maybe I kind of forgot it was my resolution, but my brain still had it in there somewhere?

No? Maybe? Whatever. Now it’s time to get my act together on that resolution for my writing path. It’s time to look at my current WIPs and dig in. Regaining momentum is hard work, y’all. This is where the mantra “write every day” has its merits. I don’t think it’s mandatory to do it, but it sure does help to do it as often as possible because writing every day keeps me in the story. It keeps my characters alive and active in the back of my head where they like to take up residence. It helps me insert my characters into the real life situations that I experience every day.

Fortunately, my characters are calling to me. I’ve been putting in some words every day now for the past few days. They are few, but, PROGRESS. I gotta keep at it. “Persevere” might include the idea of sticking to something even if there is “little or no prospect of success” except we all know there are multiple ideas of what success looks like.

Consider this post YOUR jump start back into your resolutions. Have you forgotten about them? Hmm?


Here’s some motivational music to help us:

I got a song and a smile so bright
I’ll make you wish you were here tonight

And if you tell the world your secrets
You never know
They’re set in stone
Or what can grow

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Monday Minutiae – 03.11.2019

Listening Comprehension

For my current WIP, I’ve got a book theme… as in, it’s circles the idea of one of those “100 Books Everyone Should Read Before They Die” lists. And because of that, I’m discovering that Cliff’s Notes (or Spark’s Notes, the online version) aren’t necessarily enough for me to feel comfortable referring to for my characters to discuss their books. But man, I have a hard enough time trying to keep up with all the books I want to read for the FIRST time let alone adding in re-reading some that I didn’t even necessarily love. So, I’m taking advantage of the audio book route. One fun discovery: Animal Farm on disc from my library was read by Ralph Cosham, who narrated so many of my favorite mystery series by Louise Penny. It was like a warm welcome. I’ve plenty more books in the line-up. Maybe I’ll succomb to listening at a faster rate…

Summer Reading List

On a related note… I came across this article about books that are commonly required of students in various countries throughout the world and it’s pretty interesting! Not only are the titles interesting, but the reasons for including them in that country’s literary canon. Much like here in the U.S, some reasons seem great, others…not so much. My TBR just toppled over into a huge mess and I am tripping all over the place with what to read next.

Works Cited

Even more on books… piracy has always been and will always be a problem. This article talks about the frustration of misinformation some piracy hosts blatantly propagate. No, authors do NOT think it’s okay to go download their book for free from a random site. Years ago, a site called Napster was sued for illegal music piracy and was used for quite some time as the poster child for proprietary advocacy of musicians and their work. We have all probably shared music illicitly at some point, but when I started teaching about copyright to my students – which explored things like artistic piracy, I changed my ways. I buy the music for my writing playlists. I buy books – and if I don’t buy them, then I borrow them in the way they are supposed to be read for free – from the library.

Currently Reading (print): Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Currently Reading (audio): Lord of the Flies by William Golding (I know, but the things we do for writing research!)

Song of the Week:

Not long ago, I put together a playlist of music that brought me back to my childhood days – you know, in the time of no personal digital accounts to find my own music so I listened to parents’ vinyls. Here is one of my nostalgic listens:

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Monday Minutiae – 02/11/19

Daily Oral Language
My friend and colleague, Jeff Zupfer, makes music. He writes lots of different things, but because he also teaches music at an elementary school, he writes a lot of children’s music. During our cold-cold-cold #PolarVortex days here in Minnesota, he wrote a song… about Minnesota. What made me even happier was that it made it into The Current’s (one of our local NPR radio stations) Friday Five. Well deserved! (Also, take a listen… it’s catchy!)
Black History Month
Brooklyn teacher Hollie Tubbs was a teacher recently featured who created a gorgeous door design to honor Black History month. Another friend and colleague of mine, EL teacher Hodan, replicated it with her classroom door at our school – LOVE:
Check out the many other awesome variations that people have been sharing online.


Submitting Assignments
This little tidbit shared via Twitter simply made me smile. Some random person took out a full page ad in a newspaper to talk about some general grievances along with some general kudos. There are a lot of good bits, but I kind of especially liked the general “I am pleased with cheeseburgers.” I wonder if he meant to address it to a specific restaurant or chain, but it’s quite entertaining without the specificity.
Reading Minutes
Kudos to this bookstore… I’ve been helping out with giving book talks at work lately and my one big goals is to avoid pointing out whether a book might be more interesting to boys or girls. I often specifically like to mention when one of my boys has really liked a book that has girl protagonists, because I think at the elementary level is when we really have to work hard at breaking those stereotypes. When this bookstore demonstrates the quote, “You know what I mean” when talking about looking for a “boy” book (although in the linked tweet it talks about “girl” books) I do “know” what they mean, but it isn’t accurate. Let’s all start being more specific about what we really mean when we’re trying to find a style of book for someone. Action? Adventure? Animals? Loyalty? Friendship? Identity?
Currently Reading (print): Felix Yz – Lisa Bunker (MG/YA)
Currently Reading (audio): Home for the Holidays (Mother-Daughter Book Club Series) – Heather Vogel Frederick (MG)
Song of the Week:

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Do the Work

Do you know what’s comforting?

To realize that sometimes, when you’re feeling sluggish and unaccomplished one month into a new year, it isn’t unusual. To discover that this is how you feel each and every year at around this time.

I was paging through old posts, knowing that some of what I was going to write about today I’ve touched upon before. And sure enough….

January 20, 2015:

“It’s the third week of January. The year is still NEW and yet already feels like it’s been around forever, amirite?”

February 9, 2017:

“So, January happened.”

I can relate to these memes:

There are a lot of things that made January feel like forever (and often the Minnesota cold is a big one – Polar Vortex anyone?), but finding the motivation to get back into writing was a big one. I tried to do NaNo last year and basically quit not much more than a week in, because I had too many other factors working against me. I gave myself permission to step back.

But man, I “stepped back” for waaayyy too long. I have a really good WIP started and waiting for me. I should be able to jump right back in, right?

Ugh. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sometimes I’ve sort of dismissed it when people say they are impressed with me having written entire novels; yet it is this part of the process that I should remember because yep, there’s work involved with writing and yep, pushing through and finishing the novels is a big deal.

And so, I am taking my deep breaths, joyfully saying goodbye to January, and sitting down to Do the Work. I’m going to do the things I know will help me… getting my daily swim in, listening to my music playlist for this project, making time, and I will persevere.

How does January treat you? How do you overcome the obstacle of getting back into your project, be it writing or otherwise?

I like OAR’s recent song, “I Go Through” for various reasons (and it’s on my WIP playlist), but these lyrics speak to me right now:

We go ’round and around it

We go over and under

We go through

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Janet’s Reading Stats: 2018 in Review

If I were one to have a “number of books read” goal, 2018 probably would have been a banner year for me. I read 115 books!

Not like I have to qualify my reading or anything, but to make some people feel better, I read many children’s chapter books, which are 15-30 minute reads, so that helped pad my numbers.

More personally for me than setting a goal for number of books read was who and what I was reading.

Last year, I said this:

I am most disappointed with my #ownvoices statistics. 20% is a really poor showing, especially from someone who claims to be an advocate. Obviously this doesn’t mean I’m not an advocate, but it really highlights how much further I have to go in putting my money where my mouth is.”

And so, my goal this year was to make a much more conscious effort to increase this percentage.

Here is something that I did: like many big readers, I have a crazy long “To Be Read” list. In fact, I think it was last year that I switched over from using Evernote to One Note and now I have a TBR list in Evernote, a new one in One Note, the ones I marked in Goodreads, the bookmarked booklists in my browser, the favorited tweets, and of course, the random emails and slips of paper. (It’s totally under control.) What I used to do was simply add to my list when I read or heard of a great book and here and there I would reserve from the library one those listed books. This year, however, whenever the book was by an #ownvoices author, I immediately placed it on my holds list at the library (if available) instead of just writing it down.

And while sometimes that put my reading schedule on the crazy side (8 books on hold all coming in at once, anyone?), it also meant I had a continual feed of really great books.

55% of the books I read in 2018 were by #ownvoices authors. Way better than 2017. And still further to go for 2019.

#ownvoices 2018

A couple of other miscellaneous stats:

author gender 2018

category 2018

I enjoy this kind of tracking. I think it’s useful to get a true analysis of what and who I am reading. For example, when I say I read widely, am I telling the truth? Or is it just what I like to say to make me sound interesting? Looking at the chart below, sure, 48% of my reading material is contemporary, but the rest is made up of a lot of other things, so yeah, I’m giving myself permission to keep saying I read all kinds of things.

genre 2018

If you’d like to track your reading in the same way I have, here is a copy of my log template, which is adapted from BookRiot’s Rachel Manwill.

And here, also, are a few of my top 2018 recs – in no particular order and not all-inclusive because honestly, I read a ton of really stand-out books this past year:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saénz (YA)

The Girl Who Drank the Moon  – Kelly Barnhill (MG) ß especially good in audiobook, btw

The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo (YA)

Half a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (A)

An American Marriage – Tayari Jones (A)

The Great Passage – Shion Miura (A)

Echo – Pam Muñoz Ryan (MG)

The Hating Game – Sally Thorne (A)

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion (A)

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things – Lenore Look (MG)

The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowal (A)

The Way to Bea – Kate Yeh (MG)

And to start out 2019:

Currently reading (print): Bridge of Clay – Markus Zusak (YA)

Currently reading (audio): How Hard Can It Be? – Allison Pearson (A)

What were some of your top 2018 reads? What should I add immediately?

(Tell the world about the [books we’ve read]…)





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