Friday, November 30, 2012

A Different November

Normally I’m fond of November, because it contains my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. I’m not a huge Christmas fan. I’m not Christian and don’t think much of the mandatory giving of increasingly commercial gifts. Sorry to be that way. I don’t step on anybody else’s Christmas, but I don’t tend to get involved. But gratitude, now that’s something I can get behind. Ask anybody who follows me on Twitter or Facebook. Every day I post a #DailyGratitude as a way of identifying something I can be grateful for.

Well…almost every day. Some of you know my mom passed away this year. And she lived here with me in her retirement. That’s brought some big changes. And I’ve kept up with my #DailyGratitude pretty well. I still do them. But I’ve missed some days. I didn’t forget. I just couldn’t quite push myself there. You don’t have to remind me that gratitude is more necessary than ever at a time like that. I know. It’s just harder than it looks in the directions.

I used to travel a lot for business. I did city-wide reads and professional public speaking. I gave it all up three or four years ago, because I hate plane travel and I wanted to be home. Good thing I did, too, because my mom was my dogsitter. When I had to go out of town, I just walked out the door, and Ella and my mom took care of each other in my absence. But this November I had to go out of town. I agreed to travel to this year’s youth literature conference NCTE/ALAN nearly a year in advance, when my mom was still around. And when the time came to go, I had a dog-sitting arrangement that involved three different people, and seemed to be patched together with tape and chewing gum. And then, five days before I had to catch a plane, it got even shakier. And I began to come apart around the seams.

Amazingly, I was able to find a perfect new arrangement on only five days’ notice. A good friend took the train up from Southern California and stayed in the house with Ella while I was gone. Which took away a lot of worry. I was gone nearly a week (long story), and got home the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. With no plan.

You see, much as I love the spirit behind the holiday, Thanksgiving comes with a built-in problem for me. Food. I’m vegan, and I’m allergic to…well, everything. As far as the classic American diet goes, I really can’t eat much of anything other people eat. I can’t even go to someone’s house and have just the salad, because there will invariably be soybean oil in the dressing. So my mom (who was also vegan) and I used to do Thanksgiving just the two of us. Sometimes we’d do juice fasts instead of feasts. Sometimes I’d make nontraditional feasts.

I got home late Tuesday night, used most of Wednesday getting my wonderful dogsitter back to her train, and still didn’t have a plan.

This is where my friend Thom comes in. He’s lost both of his parents, and he gave me an interesting bit of advice. He suggested I make one of the nontraditional dishes I’d made in years past, sit in a comfy chair with a warm dog (I just happened to have one of each!) and “watch 5,000 I Love Lucy reruns.” That way, he said, if the tears came, as they still usually did for him, they would be good tears.

So I followed his advice to the letter.

I don’t know that it’s my new tradition, but it worked for the difficult transition year. I can see potential better new ideas in the future, like Skype Thanksgiving among a number of people who are solo in their homes. That way I’d have my own food.

That part really doesn’t matter. What matters is that things change. It’s okay to mind, but I might as well roll with the changes. One way or another, they’ll take me where they want me to go. Resistance only causes more pain.

It was an okay November. Different. But different can be okay. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Anyone ever notice that Woodstock was a cannibal?

Seriously? Am I the only one bothered by this?

Okay, November. We give thanks. Here's the spiel:

I'm thankful for my wonderful daughter, Sophie. I'm not thankful that she got the puking sicks this month.

I'm thankful for my wonderful wife, Sandy. I'm not thankful that I don't earn enough money as a writer so that she wouldn't have to go to work every day.

I'm thankful that I live in a country with functioning sewers and hot and cold drinking water in my house (I think you have to live abroad for a while to appreciate this). I'm not thankful that my house turned on me this month, returning all our sewage through the basement shower drain.

I'm thankful for emergency plumbers. I'm not thankful for their emergency rates.

I'm thankful for my wonderful family, and how they all managed to schedule a Thanksgiving dinner that we can attend.

I'm not thankful for catching the stomach flu from my daughter and missing most of it (sob).

I'm thankful for the US election. Not (necessarily) the outcome, but the fact that every four to eight years, we have a non-violent, fairly smooth transition of power. How many nations can really say that?

I'm not thankful for pretty much anything else about US politics.

I'm thankful that I know where I'm sleeping tonight, and that it's safe. I'm not thankful that many of my students cannot say the same thing.

I'm thankful for my readers, especially the ones who take the time to write to me. You'll never know what a pick-me-up that is.

I'm thankful for my editor, Claudia Gabel,whose belief in me is unflagging.

I'm thankful for coffee. I'm thankful that I have a job that involves books, computers, and working with kids.

Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November: Days of rest (by Jennifer R. Hubbard)

In the northern hemisphere, November is the pause in the middle of fall, between the flurry of school starting and the frenzy of the holidays.

The trees and the ground grow bare, pared down to essentials, to basic structures. Sycamore limbs glow white against blue skies. Japanese maples turn the color of sunsets, then spill their beauty onto the browning grass.

The light in November is special; it has lost its harshness but not its warmth. It’s the last burst of gold before we settle in to the darkness of winter.

In the US, at the end of the month, we take a day to gather together, give thanks, and rest.

Offhand, I can’t think of a book that captures November for me, but many of the paintings of Andrew Wyeth do. Wyeth preferred the muted colors of winter’s palette to the more vivid hues of summer, as in his painting, Trodden Weed.

That can lead to a mournful feeling, but to me late fall is not so much sad as it is peaceful, contemplative. Everyone I know is so busy—too busy. I think we all need more days in which we can slow down, look inward, and minimize distractions.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thank you!

What I’m thankful for.

It’s that time of year when you give thanks and I wanted to take this chance to give my thanks. The last year for me has literally been life changing. There is no better word for me to use. In October 2011, my first book, HALF-BLOOD was published four years after I’d started writing the book. I like to think I have realistic expectations when it comes to the world of publication. And that expectation is to really have none, because in publishing you really don’t know what is going to happen the moment your book is released. All you can really do is hope for the best and I think starting off I hoped that a hundred people would buy and read the book. Like I said, I try not to have high expectations about anything. Two months after the release of HALF-BLOOD, I saw the release of OBSIDIAN, another book I honestly didn’t think would go anywhere, because seriously, it’s about aliens in high school. Within a next year, SHADOWS, TEMPTING THE BESTMAN (under my pen name J. Lynn), PURE, ONYX, CURSED, TEMPTING THE PLAYER (under my pen name J. Lynn), DEITY, and ELIXIR released. And in less than a moth, OPAL will release in December, marking my 11th book release.

11 books in roughly a year, all of them published one after another.

A year ago, I had no idea this was going to happen. Not until the contracts started coming in and I saw release dates and pretty much did this: 0_0 followed by 0_o and another 0_0.

So it’s been a crazy year for me. Sometimes I really can’t believe it. I honestly can’t even wrap my head around it. This year could’ve really sucked, but it didn’t. This year has probably been the most amazing year in my entire life. Why? Where here is where I want to give thanks.

Of course, if it wasn’t for my editors, my publishers, or my agent, none of this would’ve been possible. If Kate Kaynak at Spencer Hill hadn’t read Half-Blood and made an offer, who knows where I’d be right now? Honestly? Probably nowhere. If Liz Pelletier at Entangled Teen hadn’t asked if I’d be interested in writing about aliens in high school, I would’ve never created Daemon Black. And if Kevan Lyon didn’t think I had more books in me, I never would’ve never tackled contemporary YA and sold DON’T LOOK BACK to Emily Meehan at Disney/Hyperion. So of course, I owe a lot to them, but there is one more person(s) I owe a huge thanks to.

And that’s the readers.

Any amount of success I’ve achieved in this first year can be placed at the feet of those who’ve read my books, tweeted about them, blogged about them, started groups on Goodreads, harassed their friends and families into reading them, talked about them, and pretty much tackled people, held them down, and forced them to read them. This year wouldn’t have been amazing without all of you. Some of you live in the US, other in the UK, some in France, others in Turkey or Italy, Australia and some in countries I’m embarrassed to admit I have no idea where they’re at. Some have blogs. Some have Twitter. Others don’t. Each one of you contributed. I owe everything to you guys, the readers. Seriously. I wish there was my more ways I could thank you, but please know that the reason why I love writing is because of you guys. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

writing is not a holiday - Alisa M. Libby

Ah, the holidays.

They're kind of like writing. When the ideas are all in your head there is so much possibility - you're giddy with the potential. It's exciting and sparkly and magical. You daydream about writing while you're at work, while you're on the bus and squished in like sardines. You think about it on the train, sitting with your little notebook writing pages and pages of notes while the woman behind you argues on her cell phone about the right way to cook corned beef. And you get home and it's dark out and you have dinner and look at your notes but you're too tired so you go to bed and you dream about your novel and how wonderful it is. And how in just a few days over the weekend you and your book will cuddle up together like two little peas in a pod. Just you and your book together for hours and hours and oh won't it be beautiful!

And then and then and then it's Saturday and the day stretches out before you and you sit down with your notes and your inspiration and expectations and you write and write and then...


Holidays are like this, for me. They seem all sparkly and wonderful and fun from a distance. And there is all of this expectation that they WILL be all of those things. They seem that way on television and in commercials and in movies. I'm sure they are that way in other people's homes. And for me there is warmth and delight at times - but it's not the way it was when I was a kid. It never is.

And the story in my head is never quite what I had hoped it would be when it falls out on the page. I wish I had some very wise and optimistic words to share - to tell myself, more like - but all I can do is temper my expectations, both for writing and for holidays. That is all that any of us can do.

Friday, November 23, 2012

november is for revision

When I'm tangled in words
I grab my sketchbook
and draw whatever floats
to the surface of my brain

November is for revision
a new way to see
the end of a year
or a story

is for newts in the air

oak leaves and acorns
thumping the roof

velociraptor ghosts

epic movies

mythical beasts

birds of prey

earl grey tea

revision (kills all the darlings)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

November Change (Patty Blount)

This month’s theme is “November.” I asked some friends for blog post ideas given that theme. With thanks to Jason who suggested ‘change’ and to Bill who said ‘our birthdays,’ I decided to combine the two.

November marks many changes – change the clocks, change the seasons, change the closets from summer to winter, change sports as NASCAR ends and football takes over. November is also my birthday month. Over my four decades, my birthdays changed and adapted to a lot of things… to divorce, to relocation, to marriage, to the births of my own children. And this year, my birthday will have to adjust to death. I lost my mom in April. This is the first birthday she won’t be here to celebrate and yeah, there’s a part of me that wants to skip November and never celebrate another birthday again. How do you celebrate your life when there’s a great big hole in your heart because the person who gave it to you is gone?

No freakin’ clue.

So, I’ve decided to try a little experiment. My birthday is on the 12th. I’ve written half of this blog post before that date and I’ll write the other half after.


I have this friend who claims he ‘doesn’t do birthdays.’ Or, well – we used to be friends. Our friendship unraveled and the first tug on the thread was his refusal to wish me a happy birthday a few years back. Seriously, how hard is it to say two words to someone, two words that acknowledge the day you came to be? He never got how much that hurt me.

See, for me, birthdays aren’t just a big deal – they’re THE deal. I looked forward to November 12th with the same zeal I did Christmas because my mother made birthdays magical. She loved celebrating my birthday more than her own because I was her first baby. Every year, there was a party. Those parties ran the gamut from musical chairs and Pin The Tail on the Donkey to themes she used to spend hours in the library researching only because she thought it would make me happy. (It did!) She organized one at a brand new McDonald’s that opened when I was about seven or eight. They didn’t have ball pits or Happy Meals back then but I loved it and felt so special.

When I was still in single-digit years, I always woke up on the morning of my birthday to find a homemade corsage to wear to school. She used to make my corsages with her best friend using bows, ribbons, and candy. The year they used jelly beans? Yeah, not such a good idea. By the time the first bell rang, all I had left were the ribbons. The jellybeans escaped! *laughs* Oh, and of course, there was a cake every year. She used to buy a fancy chocolate one from the bakery and have the greeting written on a chocolate bar placed on top. I swear, my eyes used to roll back in my head in pure joy.

Another year, she organized a combination Halloween/Birthday party and to this day, that remains one of my favorite parties. I think it was my eleventh birthday when she asked everyone to give me a book as a gift. Heaven, I’d thought. Another year, I remember getting to choose a restaurant. I asked for Chinese food at Lum’s on Northern Boulevard in Flushing. That was so many years ago. I wonder if they’re still there?

When I grew up and left home, she always called me every year on the 12th on the exact time I was born. And she’d tell me the story she’d told me every year since my birth about the day I was born. It was a gorgeous Friday in autumn (strange how both of my children would be born on Fridays, too!), a few days after a massive black-out had crippled New York. The power was restored well before I arrived but she spent a terrifying few days fearing she’d be in the dark with a newborn.
It’s a whole bunch of years later and I don’t know if I’m in the dark or maybe the dark’s in me, but it’s hard to believe my birthdays will ever hold any magic again.


Well, I made it.

Happy birthday. The sentiment is sweet, isn’t it? But in the days leading up to this date, it began feeling like a directive – an order – BE HAPPY. The heart, well – it just wasn’t in it.

There’s a part of me that believes I’m not allowed to be happy anymore – that it’s restricted. I lost the only person who has and ever will love me simply because I am. I know the logic of grief – that Mom would never want this for me and I get that, I really do. But how do I stop it?

In some weird sort of parallel way, I realized I was living just like my main character, Dan, in SEND. I was going through the motions. Get up. Go through day. Stay detached. Repeat playlist. I hope to have a lot of birthdays remaining and that's NOT what I want for them. 

So here's what I did: I stopped comparing then to now. My birthday's really not so bad. In fact, it was actually pretty damn awesome.

A quick look at my Twitter and Facebook feeds on the 12th shows numerous greetings and birthday wishes – many from people I haven’t seen since my teens and still many more from people I’ve never met.  And – one of the best things ever? A birthday DM from my celebrity crush, Gilles Marini. How can ANYONE not be happy with this?

The day went on. My coworkers gifted me with chocolate cake. My guys – oh, my guys! I got extra hugs from them because they know. They get me.  My son, he was the one who called me at the precise time I was born. Then, they took me out to dinner. There are Facebook and Twitter friends who never met me and yet, know me well enough to know how insanely touched I am that they took a few seconds to type two words to me.  Some even went further than that and sent me personal messages about how they managed their own losses, their own struggles and that’s when the epiphany struck.

It hit me hard -- as epiphanies tend to do  -- that there’s room in my heart for both the grief and happiness at the same time and that's okay. As I look back over the 40-plus birthdays I can actually remember, I now see whole patterns of change -- some good, some unpleasant -- I never noticed before because I was so fixated on the traditions. Circumstances change, households change, people change and yes -- lives end. My mother may be gone, but I’m not alone. I am surrounded by people who love me differently – not less – just differently and damn if there’s not some magic in that.


What kind of changes does November mark for you? If you have any advice for dealing with the loss of a parent, I could sure use it. When this post runs, it will be Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. I wish for all readers a holiday filled with nothing but goodness. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Season To Be Thankful (Rachel Harris)

November is my favorite month of the year. It’s true. I mean, I love me some Christmas, and May kinda rocks since it’s when I was born, but whenever my calendar page turns to November, I get a giddy smile on my face.

November is the month I got married. It’s the month my first child was born. And it’s the month my first ever novel was completed. It’s filled with yummy scents and beautiful colors, and the weather down here in the South is actually tolerable. Charlie Brown is on my television, football season is in full-gear, Christmas music first begins to play, and stores have excellent sales. But the main reason I love November is that it is home to my favorite holiday.

Thanksgiving isn’t about the presents. It’s about family. It’s about taking time to remember the good things that have happened over the past year, celebrate our heritage, and eat a ton of delicious food. It’s even the month I get my craft on…or what passes as craft, since I happen to be the least artistically gifted person I know.

Every year as the decorations start rolling out, my girls and I tape up a poster board with the truck and bare branches of a tree. During the days before Thanksgiving, it is our job to fill the tree with leaves. These leaves are all different colors of construction paper, and written on them are things we are thankful for that year. When guests come to visit, or arrive on the big day itself, they too get to add to our tree of Thanksgiving.
These trees become decorations in the years to come, and each year we are able to read and reminiscence, and often laugh, at what we were thankful for that year. The year the Saints went to the Super Bowl, our tree was filled with leaves saying Who Dat! It doesn’t matter what the leaves say, what matters is that they are there. And when we read leaves from friends and family members who have passed away, they become that much sweeter.

This November, I’m thankful to be a published author. I’m grateful for the friendships I’ve made, the memories my children and I have made, and for my amazing husband who is always supportive but especially this month as I write my first full-length adult novel for Nanowrimo. And I’m really grateful that for the first time in a long time I’m letting someone else doing the Thanksgiving cooking (he he). But mostly, I’m thankful for the chance to be surrounded by my family and simply enjoy them.

What about you, beautiful readers? What are YOU thankful for this November?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November is for Suckers

Okay, so I’m the one responsible for Thanksgiving and I keep convincing myself that it must be because I’m so awesome. But mostly, I’m just a sucker. Because as we all well know, all that preparation for Thanksgiving totally sucks. People start going wild in the supermarket, and something about an oven heating your house till kingdom come while you run around trying to get everything together is kind of awful (I should mention fall weather is sporadic if not nonexistent in Florida).  Of course, my sister claims she can’t cook so she brings drinks (though I still wonder if this was just part of her plan all these years. However, her dishes do speak for themselves and are quite convincing). And my mom, having hosted all her life, bowed out several years ago and handed the cooking twine to me.  So I get stuck with basically everything. Fun, right?

No. Not fun at all. It’s miserable.

So, I played around this year with convincing my family to go to a restaurant.  You know, being practical and all that, and I know if I really wanted to, I could actually convince them. But . . . yeah, you guessed it.

I don’t want to go to a restaurant. 

Turns out I actually want the craziness. I want to lug around a frozen turkey and worry about how to properly defrost it again. I want to curse in my kitchen as I handle this huge freaking dead bird and worry about all the potential salmonella on the counters and cross contamination. I want to get borderline crazy. I want to make a mess that will have to be cleaned up. I want to have to look up the cooking temps and times again. I want to figure out at the last moment that I forgot the one key ingredient I need to make three dishes happen. I want to forget the gravy boat, damn it, the gravy boat that I forget to buy every year! And I want to be in the middle of getting a hot pan out of the oven when the phone rings and I answer it to my sister screaming “Gobble, gobble, gobble!” into my ear the way one of us always does to the other. 

Yep, I actually prefer this.  Kind of sick, right? 

Because even though it’s crazy, it means being home and enveloped in the smells of Thanksgiving and having my kids remind me how much they loooooooove Thanksgiving. And the Macy’s day parade is on TV in the background and I say to my husband (as I do every year) “Man, I could not *bleeping* handle being in a crowd like that!” and he says, “It’s *bleeping* crazy!” like he always does.  
And as family arrives, I like how my house becomes this place where everyone wants to be together. We all know each other’s faults, we know how imperfect and crazy and ill-tempered and kind and funny we can all be and we are tucked away here, free to be that way together. We know my sister (a bit of a sap) will make us go around the table and say what we’re thankful for even though she can hardly ever get the words out herself and she ends up shaking her head, trying to hide the ugly cry faces she makes (I do too, but it’s funnier to tell you about her). And my brother kind of smiles at us but then mutters one or two things because he’s single and lives on his own and just wants some damn mashed potatoes already.  And then we all hang out the rest of the day and well into the evening, and discuss the abundance of food and feel guilty about how gluttonous we are when so many people in the world go without. And we all wonder the same thing—how in the world we’ve been so lucky. Some of us believing it’s because of prayer and faith and some of us relieved because we’ve managed to fly under the radar again. And we sigh, and cut ourselves another piece of pie and promise to eat all the leftovers and make a smaller turkey next year.  

This is Thanksgiving.

So I head out, and roll my eyes at the lady who thinks it’s a race to the cans of pumpkin pie filling and who would surely take me out if I try to take the last one, and I’ll complain and call my sister a liar and tell her she could cook if she just tried.  And I do it because I really love my family a
whole lot (even my super conservative brother in law whom I always bait or he baits me into some kind of political smack down until we both think the other is a total idiot). And I looooooove these moments.  All of them.

Because it’s Thanksgiving—in all its horrific glory—for suckers like me.

I remembered this year! Finally!

Monday, November 19, 2012

SUBTLE (Holly Schindler)

As a lifelong Ozarker, I'm pretty quick to say that my area of the country is absolutely beautiful.  I've lived here so long, I also have a tendency to think that the areas of the country that remind me of home are the prettiest. 

That goes for sights and sounds.  Ever watch WINTER'S BONE?  I was overwhelmed by the sounds in that movie, especially in the last scene.  The birds, the breeze...they were the noises that've filled my ears my entire life.  I was struck by how incredibly familiar it was.  Struck, too, by how rare it is to hear those sounds on film. 

Fall can be one of the most inspiring, gorgeous times here in the Ozarks.  Some autumns, the colors are so vibrant, it feels like a sin to be inside at all.  This year?  The fall is a bit more...muted.  Earthy.  Subtle.  But as I was out and about, filming clips for this video, I was reminded there can also be great beauty in subtlety...

What does your fall look like?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

If it's November, It Must be Pilgrim Play Time

November was when I first knew I wanted to be a writer. I was seven years old and in second grade. We must have studied the Pilgrims. (this was a while ago, so I’m sure it was not politically correct in any way) I wrote a play about them, casting my friends in the roles.  I begged Mrs. Norma Bernsohn to let us perform it. She was a patient woman.

The play let us be clear, was god-awful. Truly bad. Not even when my mother typed it up for me did it get any better.
But Mrs. Bernsohn told me, “You’re an author.”
Of course it took me a few decades to believe her and get off my butt and write.

No title. Just a weird obsession with clean clothes. And a belief that all the Pilgrims came from Holland.

Feel free to perform at your Thanksgiving feasts.

Scene 1

Mary: Oh, we hardly have enough food to last us on the whole trip to Virginia, Sue.
Sue: I know it, Mary, but we will soon be there. We will have good crops and maybe the people there will show us how to make our homes snug inside.
Julie: Sue, we are near to shore now.
Sue: But Julie, all I see is trees and grass and how cold it is out.

Scene 2

Sue: The men are going down on the new land now, Mary.
Mary: But look, what is on the land, Sue?
Sue: Maybe the Indians are going to welcome us.
Julie: I certainly hope they're not angry at us, Sue.
Mary: Julie, listen to what the Captain is saying. All women go to shore.

Scene 3

Julie: Now we are on land, Mary and we must wash our clothes.
Joe: Hey, Jack!
Jack: Yes, Joe, those Indians are pretty friendly!
Joe: Well, let's start building and cutting down trees, Jack. Jack! I've made friends with some Indians.

Scene 4

Sue: We're certainly having a cold winter, Mary.
Mary: And a hard time finding food, too.
Julie: We are having so much snow this winter.

Scene 5

Mary: Now that the winter is over we shall have to thank God by having a feast.
Julie: We shall invite some Indians to share it with us.
Mary; When we are done, some of us shall go back home.
Sue: now we shall start our feast. The turkey is good and the cranberries are delicious.
Julie: Now that we are done, we shall say goodbye to some of us.
Mary: They shall go back to Holland.
All: Good bye. Good bye.

 PS: I am not making up the Holland thing. See here.