Goals at last…2014

Doin’ things a little differently this year…wrote all my goals out, then put them away for a month. Took them back out and drew this doodle to put on my wall above my writing desk.

postcard policy…

So far, letting my goals kind of percolate a little bit in my head and my life while striving to get my life in order like I always have to do from January to early February, I feel like I’ve made progress. I finished a first draft of a novel, wrote some poetry, developed some new energy and ideas related to my teaching, got out skiing a bunch on my new Christmas skis with my beautiful family (we’ve gone out so far on every day where it has been above zero where we possibly could make it happen, despite Monkey having strep throat and two patched-together vehicles who are also struggling to make it through sixty subzero days or whatever the new record is…), and I’m happy to make the positivity pass-along a priority this year.

I made this my personal policy last year, but I think it’s going to be one of those forever goals. I started making a conscious effort to pass along second-hand praise that I hear because I work in a middle school, and if anyone needs to hear that someone, for absolutely no reason, said something nice about them — it’s middle school students. Plus, as a teacher, we talk about our students. I’ve had kids accuse us of it, and they’re right. But it’s also absolutely true that SO MUCH of what we say is talking about how smart, talented, strong, resilient, kind, brave, funny, persistent, wonderful people they are. And they don’t get to hear that as much as they should. So I like to store those little bits of praise in my brain until I find a good time to pass them along, even though I rarely reveal my source.

With writing, I’m going to keep my other permanent goal, to remain “thoughtful, objective, gracious and rational about anything that happens with this book.” Recently I had a situation that called for these qualities, and I sure hope I handled it well. Now I’ve got another manuscript ready to fill the place of “this book,” so let’s hope I can keep my thoughtful, objective, rational grace about me.

that’s something…

jigsawOn hearing that school would be called on Monday because of dangerous cold, I said something like, “But it’s so cold, we won’t be able to DO anything.”

El responded: “You could write a book. That’s something.”

It is something, and it’s good of him to reassure me. Plus we have two new jigsaw puzzles…Stay warm, everyone!

wrapping it up, 2013

SNSA in the wilds of Vermont!

SNSA in the wilds of Vermont!

It’s 2014 — another year slipping into the past, another wrap-up post forming my New Year’s Eve ritual, one that usually leaves me feeling like at the very least, my year was not a complete waste of time. Numbers are interesting, and there’s always a fascination of the number thirteen, so a year ago I was making plans for 2013 and I set 13 goals.

First, my permanent writing goal:

1. I’d like to remain thoughtful, objective, gracious, and rational about anything that happens with this book.

“This book” has changed — with the release of Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always — but the goal is still completely relevant and, I have to say, once again quite difficult. There is this terrifying window for me, in both releases now, where I am compelled beyond all reason and rhyme, to read everything that is said about my upcoming and newly-released book. This, as you might imagine, can be both exhilarating and damaging, and you never really know until you’re in the thick of it which one it will be. Luckily, that urgency to know all has receded, and I find myself much happier focusing on my current writing project and letting my fledgling book take a few steps without my hovering attention. I like this part best, sinking back into my story and my writing, worrying less about the things people will inevitably dislike or disagree with.

Writing Goal #2: 2. Do everything I can do to have a successful launch of Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always.

This was pretty cool, thanks to flux books sending me, Kelsey Sutton, and Dawn Klehr on a little Mini-sota book tour right around the book’s release. I had a great time and was much more relaxed for this book’s release than the big launch party for Kiss the Morning Star.

Writing goal #3: Six Impossible. I love this book, and have secret hopes for the Universe for it. My goal is to do my best by this book and make it something special.

I’m happy with where this goal sits. This book is close to my heart.

Writing goal #4 Write something brand new this year. Maybe it’s poetry, maybe it’s another YA contemporary novel. There are all kinds of possibilities, but I know myself, and I know that means I will write something this year. I hope that it’s exciting and scary and makes me proud, but it’s okay if it’s a hot mess, too, as long as I’m writing.

I like this one a lot. I spent a wonderful month this summer working on an adult literary novel, and the time I spent at the writing conference in Bemidji was exciting and inspiring as well, even if all I wrote while I was there is poetry…poetry coming out my ears now! :) I also wrote 50k so far this year on my newest YA project. I think all these projects are simultaneously exciting and scary and messy, but I’m proud of it all.

Life and Happiness Goal #5: 5. Be as healthy as I can be.  I’d like to drink water, take my vitamins, exercise even in the winter months, and get to sleep most nights at a reasonable hour. I’d like to eat more fruits and vegetables like I have for most of 2012 and continue to take small steps toward actually cooking for myself and my family. This is a squishy goal, I know, but keeping it that way is the only way I’ll keep working at it.

Squishy goal, squishy answer, which is that I did great on all of this until school started in late August, and by September it was really hard to keep up on anything. I did keep a pretty cool incentive system, though, where I got to earn savings money by meeting my goals each day, so I have a pretty good record of the parts that were working and the parts that were not.

Life and Happiness Goal #6: Get outside every day that I am able, even if it’s just a walk around the block. I always feel better when I do. Get into the woods or near the water even more.

Again, did well until school started, lost it.

Life and Happiness Goal #7: Take another road trip, including camping, with the kids. Think about taking one without them, too.

Did this! Went to Chicago and had a terrific time! Took a trip without the kids OR the husband, so…that’s the second part.

Life and Happiness Goal #8: Have at least one actual conversation every single day with each of my children and with my husband. Not a lecture about behavior or homework or cleaning up, not going over the details of our complicated lives. Just talking and listening.

I liked this goal. I want to keep it. :)

Parenting Goal #9. Be consistent with the pebble jars and the chores, even when the effort it requires seems more than the effort of just doing the chores myself. Remember to award pebbles for cooperation and kindness as much as for completing jobs. Give at least four for every one I take away.

Again, really nice until school started, but then we got back to it this month. It’s a good reminder to get these kids to help out more and feel like they are successful people.

Parenting Goal #10. Keep reading together as a whole family every night before bed. This is my favorite part of the day, every day.

Did this, with a handful of exceptions, usually involving either voice loss (El read for us a few times, and D reads his favorite picture books when we don’t have time for a novel), but we read some great books this year, including The Hobbit  and The Golden Compass.

House Goal #11. The bathroom. I want it to be functional and…you know. Not have holes in the floor and a vise-grip for a faucet.

nope, had to pay for dental work instead of any house remodeling!

House Goal #12. Make plans for getting the kitchen tolerable as well. New floor covering, finish cabinets/countertops, and put up shelving around the window.

Didn’t do any of this but did set up trello account for the house so we can list our projects, and we have a to-do card started for the kitchen

House Goal #13: Scrape/paint the final side of the exterior of the house and finish the porches and repainting the decks. I know I feel like I should work on the yard/put in some flower gardens, but the reality is that I am far too busy in the spring when school is wrapping up, and I just never get around to all the prep work in the yard for this.

Okay, so let me talk about these house goals. I didn’t exactly do any of this, mostly because of the huge dentist surprise that hit us in the spring. BUT we did make a major house change by separating the boys into their own rooms, removing our office/writing room from the upstairs and handing it over for a micro-bedroom for our oldest, making the youngest’s bedroom function as a playroom for both boys still…finding a home for all the STUFF that was in that office/writing room/storage cube.

Also, for the first time ever, we had a container garden on the back deck and raised some successful cherry tomatoes (our regular tomatoes got blossom end rot) and a few red bell peppers (though the short, cold season didn’t favor them…if we had two more weeks of heat, they’d have been happy!)

Well? Not too bad, actually, and that’s a wrap on 2013 . Tomorrow I’ll show up here again with my goals for 2014.

Happy 10th Birthday, my Word Warrior!

winner of medals!

winner of medals!

Voracious reader, buried in books…

Surly, shrugging shirker of showers…

Slugger of softballs, smiling beneath shaggy hair…

Dreamer boy with world-wise eyes...

Dreamer boy with world-wise eyes…

Confident board-breaker, shouting loud in the taekwondo gym, strong and kind…

Stick-whittler, star-gazer, fire-starter, day-dreamer woods-boy…

Wandering wonderer, full of deep questions and complicated words…fierce and loyal…

Memorizer of conversations, forgetter of multiplication facts…

A writer with his own voice, a sketcher of pencil-worlds…

My Elliot, age ten!

Happy birthday, and I love you so.

 

 

Happy 7th Birthday, Little Monster Monkey!

wolfboy bares his teeth

wolfboy bares his teeth

Singing in the backseat — songs with real words and songs with made-up words…

Snuggly barnacle at my book signing, squeezing me tight while I talk to the crowd. “You’re the best Mama I could ever have, and I love you so much more than you love me,” he says…

Contrary, persnickety, throwing himself to the floor because the shirt he wants to wear — the only shirt that will do — is wrinkly, or has a button in the wrong place, or or or…

He knows what he wants…”ordering” his bike (orange with black flames) from the bike swap and then showing up and picking out exactly the bike he chose in his imagination the night before…

IMG_3120

All hail the birthday boy!

Mathematician, whose favorite numbers are all prime, who is “mostly thinking about math all the time” and who calls out number sequences at bedtime, along with their sums…

Extrovert, frustrated with his home-body mom and his bookworm brother, always trying to organize the party…

Newly bespectacled worrier of weird worries…

Empathetic lover of all things that need love, hugger of stuffed animals, discoverer of secret passageways…

My little Avery, age seven.

Happy Birthday, and I love you so.

 

more winter in Sterling Creek…

winter walkI was talking recently with my friend Mary, who read Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always and commented about how she enjoyed seeing Minnesota winter making an appearance in a YA book. We had a pretty good discussion about portrayals of winter in fiction, and it’s had me thinking about winter in YA.

Not YA, but lately I’ve been reading Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass out loud to my family, and the scene we read tonight had some amazingly cool Arctic images as Lyra and a bedraggled group of children are scattering in a snow storm.

And last winter, we read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, and I’ll never forget the image of school children walking arm in arm to cross the street and narrowly avoiding a wandering death on the prairie through the luck of one hand brushing the edge of the last building. It was a scene I shivered to read to my kids, many years after I first thrilled with the horrors of blizzards from safe in my childhood bedroom.

Sterling Creek, MN — the fictional setting for many of the stories in my head — is definitely a town familiar with winter. In my current WIP (snowmobile crash book), winter is basically another character in the book. (and an attempted murderer, at that!) Here are a few chilly scenes I thought I’d share with you…winter in Sterling Creek!

This snow is the kind that snaps against the window pane in grainy waves, carried by the fiercely gusting winds that rock the corners of the old house. I like weather that reminds me how lucky I am to have shelter.

I like that description because it makes me cold, and I know this snow. It will be snapping against my windows all too soon.

“I know you can’t drink or anything, so I didn’t get any wine,” he said, and I put on my jacket. It was cold out, enough so that your breath would freeze a little, in the time between exhaling and the air actually leaving your mouth or your nose. I put on a red hat, with a little tuft of yarn on the top. When I bent down to grab the back of my boots, to sink my heels into the hollows I had been trudging down all winter, it felt strange, like something was already changing the way my body moved, the way I stooped.

“I’ll get an abortion,” I said. Loud enough for him to hear.

“It’ll be okay,” he said, and he ushered me toward the garage. “You’ll see, Taylor. I promise.”

Obviously this scene is a little more complex, with a pretty big conflict apparent, but I like the way Taylor’s interaction with the cold is a part of her struggle.

One more, this one the perfect set-up to get stranded somewhere…only a little description.

The storm began as most spring storms do, with a sloppy rain. It fell on the roads and froze into a treacherous glaze as the temperature dropped—which was precisely when the rain turned over to snow. A flurry of heavy white flakes fell fast and thick, obscuring the ice.

What do you think? What are some classic wintery images from fiction that stick with you?

Cassandra survey: a good friend “gets” you…

Take the Cassandra Survey with me! Chapter 11: Your definition of a good friend...

Take the Cassandra Survey with me! Chapter 11: Your definition of a good friend…

The next Cassandra Survey question is about defining a good friend, and for months all that has come to mind when I think about that question is that a good friend “gets” you–when something happens that is funny or interesting or meaningful in some way, the good friend’s eyes are there, meeting yours, exchanging that sentiment without words.

I like thinking about those exchanges, about the kinds of things friends share, as I’m writing my characters and their complicated relationships. I don’t think I’ve yet written a friendship as true and solid as the friends I’ve had in real life, but often it’s those conflicts, those complications, that help me to bring out the deepest aspects of my characters. In Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always, I like the friendship that Cass has with her brother Eric, and I like the beginnings of a good friendship growing between Cass and Darin, too. Her interactions with Kayla are more abrasive at times, but in the end, I’m happy with the direction they are moving, too. In my current WIP (snowmobile crash book), I’m happy for the all the good friends in my MC’s life, including a really terrific best friend.

How do you define a good friend, and what fictional friendships are your favorites? Take the Cassandra Survey!

plotter or pantser? define pants…

This has nothing to do with the post, but look at this charming Bemidji necklace my lovely poet-friend Jessica Frank bought for me to match the one she got in Bemidji while we attended the North Woods Writing Conference! <3!

This has nothing to do with the post, but look at this charming Bemidji necklace my lovely poet-friend Jessica Frank bought for me to match the one she got in Bemidji while we attended the North Woods Writing Conference! <3!

 

I got to a “this isn’t on the outline” moment in the WIP a few hundred words ago, (the outline exists…in the form of a series of sestinas performed via interpretive dance in silhouette with a fog machine, jsyk), and now I must decide whether the moment is an anti-productive diversion or a brilliant work of my subconscious genius. Always a tightrope, fiction writing.

Even more exciting, the moment involves indecision. And the theft of five thousand dollars, so. We’ll see.

book launch reading…

I’m not super comfortable with the idea of being on video, and typically I am seen running out of the frame when the video camera appears, but here’s a bit from my reading at the signing with fellow flux MN authors Kelsey Sutton (SOME QUIET PLACE) and Dawn Klehr (THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR). I’m reading the first page of SOMETIMES NEVER, SOMETIMES ALWAYS.

 

 

Happy Birthday, Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always!

DSCN2246Tomorrow my second book releases into the wild, so happy book birthday, Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always! After a terrific journey up to Bemidji and signing with fellow flux authors Dawn Klehr (THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR–a wonderfully layered, suspenseful read…totally get this!) and Kelsey Sutton (SOME QUIET PLACE–an original and intriguing concept that achieves the feat of getting readers to feel for a protagonist who can’t feel emotion!), and an exciting launch/signing at Fitgers Bookstore here in my own beautiful city, we’re all on our way this Saturday at 2:00 to Addendum in St. Paul. What excitement!

Dawn posted a video interview with me here, and let me tell you, it’s pretty rare for me to be caught on video! Check it out–we talk about Duluth, Dylan, and my true feelings about middle school. :)

If you want your own copy of my book (it’s really pretty, and I love the hopeful feeling of the jar full of sunlight. It’s exactly what my Cassandra needs!), you can order direct from flux, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or look it up in your local indie. Or, yanno. You could do all of the above. ;)

(and ALSO you can help get the word out even if you have no money to buy my book if you request it at your local library, and then check it out!)

When I think about the books I’ve written, both the two published and the as-yet-unseen works-in-progresses, I have a sort of mental shorthand for each one. Right now, for instance, I’m writing what I think of as “my snowmobile crash book,” and I think of it as a book about guilt and memory, and finding the truth. My last WIP was “my ballet and biker book,” which is about going and staying and the in between places.

SNSA has always been simply “my Cassandra book,” and it has always been a redemption book in my mind. Cassandra starts this book without a clue who she is or what she stands for, and she stumbles on the path of discovery in about a million ways, which I think is pretty typical of everyone–teen and adult alike. Goodreads has this terrible/awesome feature where you can see people’s notes/comments as they read, like you’re peeking over the stacks in the local library, listening to someone talk to her friends after every few pages of reading your book. A very weird sensation, and every time I take a look (the curiosity is terrible, even though it’s always a mixed bag when you actually give in and do it) I think about how amazing it is that the world is this connected.

Anyway, some people have expressed their frustration with Cass, and I get that. I really do. She does some things and neglects to do some other things that can make her difficult to like. (The word hate has been bandied about, I admit–and I sort of like that, in a hopeful kind of way. Hatred is a pretty intense emotion for my made-up person to evoke, and Cass can be pretty hateful at times.) I also fully admit to being, at age seventeen and in the present, for at least brief periods of time, difficult to like.

But my hope is that she can be redeemed, even if she’s still flawed.

What are your thoughts about unlikeable characters? What pieces are necessary for you to feel that empathy for a character even when you don’t necessarily like them or approve of them? Who are your favorite prickly or outright repugnant characters?