Saturday, March 27, 2010

a break

I was completely headache free while on vacation, and now the headaches have come back with a vengeance. I'm working to get them figured out, but in the meantime, I'm taking a break from a number of "extras" in my life, and this blog, sadly, is one of them. I'm hopeful that I'll be back in the ole blogosphere soon. Hold down the fort for me while I'm gone! Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I'm back...and so is spring!

I'm back from a (mostly) relaxing, (mostly) wonderful vacation. I swam in the Pacific and under a waterfall, surfed (!), hiked up an active volcano, saw monkeys and sloths, went bird watching, drove an ATV across the Nicoya Peninsula, and drank lots of delicious coffee. Pictures to follow.

While I was away, the clocks turned back, and winter released its grip on New England in an unusually gentle way. It is a very strange feeling to go away in the middle of a long, dark, cold winter and to come back to sunny day AND EVENINGS, crocuses sprouted, and lots of buds on the trees. In some ways, it's an amazing way to say goodbye to winter. In others, its completely discombobulating, like going to a movie when it's light out and re-entering the world when it's dark.

I got two new story ideas while I was away. That leaves me wondering what it is about traveling and being somewhere totally foreign that washes story ideas from the corners of my brain and brings them into the forefront. Do you feel that way, like travel is a good story generator?

In any case, I'm off to Starbucks now to get some of those ideas down on paper. Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Hasta luego

I'm heading to Costa Rica for some fun (and yoga and hiking) in the sun.

This is where I'll swim:

Where I'll nap:

Where I'll do yoga:

And whom I hope to run into:

Talk to y'all in a few weeks! Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Seven fascinating (mostly writing-related) articles

I'm going away for 10 days (whoo hoo!), so I thought I'd leave you lovely readers with some articles I suggest you peruse in my absence. If you read any of them, I'd love to hear what you think!

1. Losing your whole town
Imagine that you don't only have to walk away from the house you bought and paid for and lived in and loved. Everyone else around you has to do the same. And the general store, the library, the post office--they all have to pack up and leave, too. All because of an underground coal fire that could have been put out when it first started, almost FIFTY years ago.
That's exactly what's going on in a small town in PA.

There's already some n
on-fiction books on the town's strife, which I plan to read. But I think there might be the seed of a fictional story in there, too. Imagine the family dramas that could be told amongst this heartbreaking, almost unbelievable backdrop.

2. Some Very Funny Dos and Donts of Writing
Thanks to Robyn for pointing me to this awesome and funny article by a debut novelist, Tony DuShane. My two favorite "dos and donts":

Don't: Get in this game if you don't absolutely love literature. Let me take that back, don't get in this game if literature hasn't saved your life somehow. Don't get into this game for the money. Don't get into this game while wondering if you should Tweet your novel online to show your digital forward thinking.

Do: Read and write. Read and write. And write. And write. It's like learning to play guitar and you play "Stairway to Heaven," and after you master that you play other songs.

3. An ode to the London Review of Book's personal ads.
This article is so quirky and funny--just my type! If I ever needed to place a personal ad, I'd totally do it in the London Review of Books. In the meantime, I'll check out the compilation books of the ads.

4. Seth Godin on creativity.
So many great gems in this article on creativity. Here's my favorite. This quote has really stuck with me in the weeks since I first read it:

For me, the single best thing you can do to become more creative is to be wrong more often. Creative people are wrong all the time (look at Apple's long string of failures). The goal is to create a safe place to be wrong, a way to be wrong without destroying yourself. The more wrong I am, the more often, the better I seem to get at being creative.

5. What makes a word sound good?
I found this NY Times article on the sound of words fascinating. I'm guessing the poets out there will particularly like it. Again, a favorite quote from it:
"Poetry, in fact, is two quite distinct things,” H. L. Mencken wrote in a 1920 magazine column. “It may be either or both. One is a series of words that are intrinsically musical, in clang-tint and rhythm, as the single word 'cellar-door' is musical. The other is a series of ideas, false in themselves, that offer a means of emotional and imaginative escape from the harsh realities of everyday.”

6. On Rejection.
I thought this Glimmer Train essay on rejection started a bit slow, but man was I glad I stuck with it when I got to the end:

The odds of winning the Nobel or becoming a perennial bestseller are astronomical. So why do we keep putting our heads on the chopping block when we can clearly see the worn dull blade dangling by a thread above? We don't do this in other facets of our lives, in which we are far more pragmatic and make decisions based on evidence. We don't put ourselves at risk when we know that odds are we are going to get hurt.

So why do we do it?

Because we are in love, and looking for those with whom we can share that love.

Which is why rejection, particularly in your love life, is good training for being a writer. Because your work, if it's true, is you—the culmination and symbol of your heart, your passion, your hopes and dreams. Your work is everything you want and need to make things right in the world—it's what sets you apart from the rest, what makes you believe that all the devotion, dedication, and the grueling brutal daily grind to produce actually means something.

7. The second book from the author of the Time Traveler's Wife!
Anyone who loved the Time Traveler's Wife will probably be interested in this interview with author Audrey Niffenegger about her new book. Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Confession Tuesday: The week-before-vacation edition

I leave on Saturday for Costa Rica! Picture a week of yoga on the beach, followed by a few days of hiking in the rain forest. Ahhhh.

In spirit of prepping for the trip, here are some vacation-themed confessions:

I confess that I planned to lose 8 pounds before the vacation, and only managed to lose 2.

I confess that this is probably going to bother me the first time I put on my bathing suit, though I wish it wouldn't.

I confess that I'm bracing myself for my husband's culture shock--in the past he hasn't been the best at adjusting quickly and easily to foreign countries, though after a day or two he's fine.

I confess that I know these are awesome "problems" to have.

I confess that before going away, I like the house to be clean and my to-do lists to be as completed as they can be. My mom used to clean the house before we went away, and I thought she was crazy. Now I understand the peace of mind it brings, both before you go and after you come back.

I confess it bothers me that my to-do lists never get completely done, though I'm sure I would be sad if I had nothing I wanted to get done. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, March 01, 2010

Recent Reads: February Edition

Like the month itself, this list of books read in February is a shorty. But quantity is definitely in inverse proportion to quality here--the four books I read/listened to this month were all good ones.

Three Bags Full by Leonnie Swann
Four-and-a-half stars
This sheep detective story, as it is called in the book's subtitle, is delightful and addictive. It's told from the point of view of a flock of sheep whose shepherd has been murdered. Swann does a great job of making each sheep a unique character, and of telling things from the sheeps' perspective. I didn't catch a single instance of her writing like a human instead of a sheep. And much like a book told from the point of view of a child, the sheep witness things that they don't understand, but that the reader does, making for an interesting, layered story.

The Perks of Being a Wall Flower by Stephen Chbosky
Three-and-a-half stars

This coming of age story reminded me and others in my book group of Catcher in the Rye--especially in that I got a lot more out of reading each book as an adult than I would have as a teen. The story is told through a series of letters that a troubled teen writes to an anonymous friend. It's a very quick read--I read most of it in one night (the night before my book club, of course!)--and one I would recommend.

The Reserve by Russell Bank*
Four-and-a-half stars

I am a big fan of Russell Bank, and this story was well done. The story is complex--it's told from multiple points of view, so it's about many characters and many stories--and a little hard to sum up. The themes include love, marriage, class, family, and what it means to be insane. What impressed me most was how deftly he switched points of view. My writers' group has been discussing the subject of how hard it is to write from an omniscient point of view, and this is a book I will turn to as a "how to" guide if I ever decide to go that route with a story or novel.

In the Time of Butterflies*
by Julia Alvarez
Four-and-a-half stars

This is one of those books that weaves fact and fiction to give readers a good sense of what it was like to live during a particular time in history. In this case, the story takes place during the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republica in 1960. It tells the story of four sisters--three of whom get involved in the revolution against Trujillo, and die because of their involvement. The fourth sister lives to tell their story. The book also deals with themes of women's roles in the revolution, marriage, family, and sisterhood.
*I listened to this as an audio book Best Blogger Tips