Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I know I'm in California, but it still feels springier than spring should for still being March.  We supposedly have this 'rainstorm' going on right now, but so far it's rained maybe twice, in short spurts, and through my window it's all blue skies and puffy gray-white clouds.  This was officially the warmest winter on record in California, and I feel cheated.  (But also relieved, because when we moved in we took out the wall heating so we could put up bookshelves.  Books > not freezing.)  Anyway, it's spring!  There's green garlic at the farmer's market (which I bought for the first time) and the hills here are turning green and there are mustard flowers and daffodils starting to crop up along the freeway, and the days have settled more into a routine again, this time with my little buddy.  (Who is nearly nine months old!!!  How/why.)

I don't usually do anything for Lent--it was never really a thing when I was growing up--but I've been feeling really heavy this year with so much horrible news everywhere.  From people I love, and also just in the news in general; it feels like the world is at a particularly depressing point in its history.  So for Lent I gave up a bunch of websites I usually read, which has had the effect of making me wallow less in depressing things I can't change, but has also had the effect of making me a more compulsive Facebook/Twitter/email checker than ever before.  Also I've gotten really good at loopholes.  (It doesn't count if I follow the link from elsewhere, right?  What if I just google the author's name?)  When's Easter?  Lent is super long.

In other news, I finally have a title and a release date for my book!  Conviction, to publish on May 5, 2015.  I swear it's easier to write a 300-page book than a one-line title, by the way.  I turned in my first round of revisions recently, and after this there will be some more revisions from my editor, line edits where everything's worked over on a sentence-by-sentence level, copy edits, and then cover design, a galley, etc.  Last week I saw three writer friends' cover designs, and they were spectacular and made me all weepy and filled with happy thoughts about how books are magic, writing is magic, publishing is amazing, etc.  Then last night on Twitter I saw someone ask "How stable a career is being an author?" and, lol.  I had a good laughcry over that one.

Meanwhile, I'm in the middle of drafting two new books.  By 'in the middle of,' I actually mean in the first maybe one percent of.  It's so weird going from a project where you know the whole world and all the characters really intimately, and everything's structured and holds together, and then all of a sudden there's ... nothing.  If I were a more exciting kind of person it would probably feel freeing and exciting, but mostly it just makes me want to go on Gawker binges (which won't happen until Easter; see: Lent).  

Also, baseball season is going to start soon.  Best news ever.  I can't wait.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

November gratitude list

This time of year always makes me remember all the things I'm thankful for, and I feel like I'm living in a particularly good time of life right now, so it comes easy this year.

- My baby is in the sweetest, funniest, quirkiest stage right now at four months.  Her growly dragon noises and cackles (she misunderstands the purpose of laughter, we think--sometimes when she's just sitting there she'll erupt in this harsh, staccato, kind of maniacal cackle out of nowhere and then go instantly stone-faced again) when she's awake and her little sighs when she's asleep blast my heart into a thousand tiny pieces.  She likes being held while you're standing up only, and she's a terrible sleeper, but she's so much fun and so cute and in general just the best.  Every now and then she rediscovers her hands or sometimes her feet and will just sit there and stare at them like she's trying to figure them out, and I read somewhere that at this age babies haven't learned to separate themselves from their primary caregivers, which is to say that when she looks at her hands she thinks they belong to me.  HAHA.  I don't know why this amuses me so much, but it does.  I try to read to her every day and whenever I do she arches her back and stares around the room and sometimes tries to close the book, and I also learned that that--closing books--is a standard developmental stage.  Weird.

- I'm revising my manuscript for Disney, which is an up and down process, and actually if you asked my husband and friends I've been nonstop pestering with existential writing angst they'd probably say it sounds like it's all down, but my editor is terrific and her notes are fantastic, and I believe in her vision for the story (which is a life raft on the days I'm drowning in the self-doubt and the suspicion that I should just send her a blank document marked "improvements").  I'm also working on my next project, which I'm really excited about.

- I'm still figuring out the whole work/parenting balance thing (definitely a first-world problem), but my parents and aunt have been really generous about helping take care of my little girl and giving me a few extra hours to write.  I'm also happy she gets to see them more.

- Audrey's in that sweet spot where she's old enough to go places but still young enough to be immobile and portable, so we've gotten out enough to see friends and in general re-enter the world.  We even went to San Diego last month for a wedding, and to a gathering of friends in Twain Harte the month before that, and it was really really good to get to see friends and family we don't usually get to see.


- It had been for some reason a while since I'd met any new people and I was feeling my--admittedly incredible and fulfilling--circles shrinking a little as good friends were moving away for various reasons, but lately a smattering of really amazing new people have come into my life and I feel that happy excitement of new friendships.  Some are people I know from church, which is starting to feel like a real and vital community to me, and I also for the first time ever took the plunge and met a friend I'd met online (and it was really fun and I was so glad we clicked in person, and plus we ate cronuts, which, win--although frankly, overhyped).

- This.

- Thanks to Lee Kelly I became a member of The Freshmen Fifteen, a group of fifteen YA authors whose books are debuting in 2015, and not only has the community been incredible and not only have I been totally blown away by the talent and inventiveness of the other women and their work, I also got to meet up with authors Stacey Lee and Virginia Boecker and it was the best night ever.  I realized, as I was gushing about them afterwards to J, that it was the first time I've ever met anyone in person who's in the YA publishing community, and it was like coming home to my people.

- Also, I've found my critique partner soulmate in Lee.

- I had my ten-year high school reunion last month and it was so great to see everyone and catch up and in general just be in a room full of people just genuinely really, truly happy to see one another.  (It was also really fun to Google + hangout with my besties afterward so we could recap our night.)  I'm really kind of embarrassingly proud of where I come from, and everyone's just turned into such impressive, decent, overall great people.  Eleven-year reunion!  I hope.

- I became a member of the NaNoWriMo Associate Board, and last weekend I attended the Annual Night Of Writing Dangerously (and got to see an old friend from college whom I haven't seen since then!).  Driving home through Chinatown, pushing my rapidly-aging car up the steep hills where my grandmother saw my grandfather skating backwards and told a friend "that's the boy I'm going to marry," I felt really happy to be a part of a city and a community that can come around its writers and readers.  (Then I came home to a baby who had been screaming in such anguish for the past hour I almost took her to the hospital because I was scared something was really wrong, so it was fun being out for the night for the last time ever.)

- We live in a one-bedroom and moving somewhere bigger with a second bedroom seemed like the appropriate thing to do, and we looked all over the place and it turned out I have this irrational but EXTREMELY DEEPLY-ROOTED desire to live near trees and hills, probably thanks to having grown up where both were abundant and now feeling weirdly ungrounded when I can't see either one from where I live, and J had more normal desires for more living space and storage closets.  Also, have I complained yet about how a two-bedroom in the area goes for like 2800 right now?  Anyway, this weekend J rearranged the table in our living area and suddenly we have like six extra square feet and now it feels like we can live here forever.  So we stopped the obsessive Craigslist hunting and I'm really glad because I was heartbroken in advance to leave where we live now, my favorite place I've lived in my adult life.

- J's in thesis mode before he starts a new job very soon, and at the moment his schedule is relatively flexible, which I've been trying to take advantage of.  Last week we got holiday drinks and went for a walk, because our baby has a weird and all-consuming love of being outside, and it was autumn-y and just really nice.  Boo to real jobs.

- And next week's Thanksgiving!  Yay for family and friends!  I think this is my favorite time of year.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

On banning books

I remember very clearly the books that killed my innocence.

The first one: Let The Circle Be Unbroken by Mildred Taylor.  In it, a young black boy is sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit, and I remember so clearly reading along expecting everything to be fine, expecting justice to prevail, and being shaken to my core when it didn't play out that way.  (Because if that could happen in a book--couldn't it maybe happen in the real world, too?)  I was eight.

After that there was My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Collier, a story about the American Revolution whose the last lines deal with the narrator's brother being executed with a burlap sack over his head.  I was ten.

And after that was Slam Book, by Ann M. Martin of The Babysitters Club fame, which because of its author made me think I was entering into a world when things didn't go all that wrong.  I was reading it at night after I was supposed to be in bed, sneaking in pages by the light from my closet, and late at night when I was the only one awake in the house I read a scene in which a girl who was being bullied at school drew a warm tub of water and went and got razor blades and told her dead mother she was coming.  And because I was young, I didn't understand until the next chapter started with the line (seared into my memory) "Cheryl Sutphin was dead."  I was eleven.

(Before that, of course, there was the Easter story, with all its attendant dramatizations that left me traumatized and sick.)

To be totally honest, I kind of wish I'd never read them.  Words and images and scenarios stay with me--it's why I can't watch a certain kind of violent movies; it's why I avoid Easter services and sometimes news stories after I've glimpsed headlines that make me ill--and those traumatized me for a long time.  Enough so, apparently, that decades later I remember them clearly.

But I also believe that reading them, and learning stark terrible facts about humanity, was an important thing to do.  I think it made me a better person: more aware, more stunned by evil, more cognizant of what it meant to be a human in the world.

My daughter's favorite book right now is a collection of high-contrast black and white shapes with a total of maybe twenty words in the entire book, and maybe I'll feel differently when she's old enough to understand things.  I'm sure I'll want to protect her from knowing about ugly and awful things in the world.  I'm sure I'll want to preserve her sense of innocence and safety.  I'm sure when she comes across ideas that might marginalize others, ideas that might be parading themselves as legitimate to mask some deep moral wrong, I'll panic that somehow she might think those are right or okay.  Because words matter, and language matters, and the things that you're exposed to burrow into you and take a certain hold on your consciousness, sometimes in ways you don't even realize at the time.

But I don't ever want her to think that her experiences are everyone's experiences--that if she's been lucky, which I hope she will be, that everyone else is equally lucky and that there's no need for her to consider otherwise.  I don't want her to blind herself to reality, even when that's painful.  I don't want her to go to the library or to school and to be presented with a whitewashed, false, privileged world in which unpleasant or unsavory aspects--or, worse still, aspects that people deem unpleasant or inappropriate just because they're different--are simply censored out.

On the flip side, If there's something in her life she's struggling with, I want her to read about it.  I want her to see the experience lived out on the page.  I want her to know she's not alone, and I want her to know that perhaps there's a way to give voice to her experience.

I don't ever want her believing that she can't talk about who she is or about something that's happened to her or something that's happened to someone she cares about.  I don't ever want her feeling like anything she might be going through is so shameful it must be scrubbed from existence.

No kid should feel that way.  And we're so much worse off when we let that happen.

Happy Banned Books Week!  Here's to reading honestly, to reading dangerously, and to reading the hell out of whatever you want.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A few quick takes

- My baby turned two months old last week!  She's also started smiling and cooing, and the gummy little smiles turn my heart into a quivering pile of mush.  She's so funny.  Her little expressions and emerging opinions are unreal, like she's a little practice human.

- Ten years late, I'm finally watching West Wing, and it's so good and well-written and well-acted and makes me feel all hopeful excited about America and about democracy.  Did you watch it?  Can we discuss it together forever?  Why is C. J. the absolute best?

- My friend and I have been playing the best text game ever this week where one of us names a category and then we both send a picture of our respective little besties that fits the category.  I was convulsing laughing at Category: Possessed:

That's a dog, by the way, not a demon-cat.  (And the lower one is a baby who's usually cuter and not frothing quite so enthusiastically at the mouth.)

- The new Twitter with its threading-replies-system-thing is THE LIVING WORST.  I hate it so hard.

- Fun fact: September 19th is apparently International Talk Like A Pirate Day, according to ... whomever designates these days.  (There's a day for everything.  My favorite is the one for doughnuts, which actually is every day, if you have the right attitude about it.)  And, for my writer friends, if you or writers you know tweet with the hashtag #YABpiratetalk, you have a fantastic shot at winning some piratey goodies plus a manuscript critique!  In fact one of the manuscript critiques will be from me, and I am, actually, an excellent reader, and would love to see what you're working on.

Happy International Talk Like A Pirate Day, all!  Here's to devoting days to the little days.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On point of view

Sunset on a recent trip to Twain Harte, CA.  I'm pretty sure Andi took this one!

I'm working on a new manuscript, and a few weeks ago I met with my favorite former teacher for a consultation.  I tend to write in a billion documents scattered throughout my hard drive all at once, and I was startled to discover, when I knitted them all together, that they made up about the length of a book. I'd been writing in fits and starts and not feeling like things were really coming together yet, and one thing I hadn't resolved yet was the point of view.  When I sent off the manuscript the first two-thirds were in the first person, and the last part was in the omniscient third.

I always write in the first person.  I can remember exactly one exception in the past decade or so of writing, and it's a short story I've been toying with on and off and halfheartedly trying to publish somewhere, so far without success.  But when I was writing my last book there were some mechanical issues that would have been so easy to resolve if the story wasn't told only by a narrator who wasn't around for everything I wanted to include in the story, and last summer I also read a book in the omniscient third that I loved so much that I thought, I need to try that.

So for this story, I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, and took what felt like a risk, or at least would be considered one in a workshop: I wrote in the omniscient third.  I entered the consciousness of even peripheral characters and I made declarations about them; the narrator knew everything.  I played with that, and I wrote it, and I sent it off.

The first thing my teacher said to me when we met was that she wanted just to focus on the first part of the story--the first-person section--because the other wasn't working; there was, as she put it, no portal to welcome the reader into the story.  It wasn't a surprise, and if anything, it was something of a relief, and to be honest my instincts had been telling me the same thing already.  Because what was missing was the most important part of a story for me: the act of the narrator retelling it. Everything I've ever written has been so much about a narrator piecing together his or her story after the fact, sorting through the details and the meaning and the implications of it.  Without that, I was missing the fuel that drove the whole story.

Do you notice point of view when you're reading?  Does it make a big difference for you or do you have a strong preference for what you read?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Apartment life (plus some gratuitous baby pictures)

This month we got notice that our rent is jumping up about 20 percent; J's going to be graduating in the next few months; we're in a one-bedroom with a baby.  In other words, we'll probably be moving sometime in the foreseeable future, which feels like a huge deal to me because moving = the worst, and also because the place we live now is probably my favorite place we've lived since we got married.

Right now we live in a rented condo, and even the small tweak in our normal pattern of apartment living feels like it makes the situation different.  Usually in an apartment complex everyone is moving in and out regularly enough that no one knows their neighbors, but in our building everyone else owns their own condos and has lived here for like twenty years, so we've gotten to know our neighbors and I really love that.  I'll miss it.   Anyway, I'm not that interested in buying a house (ball and chain amirite) anytime soon, and my bank account/career path is REALLY not interested in it, so.  I've been starting to half-heartedly peruse Craiglist in search of The Next Place To Schlep My Billions Of Books I Regret Each Time We Move.  And also thinking about apartment life in general.
Apropos of that, here are the things I love about living in an apartment:

1.  Maintenance.  I really, REALLY love being able to just call someone to fix whatever breaks.
2.  Not being tied down to a location (or, at least, a micro-location, since though we might move intra-Bay-Area, I doubt we'll leave this area anytime soon).  Commuting = the worst.
3.  Crowdedness.  I actually really like having people around all the time and neighbors in very close proximity.  I also love being able to live close to downtown streets and businesses (particularly ones that are open twenty-four hours a day; see item 6).
4.  Minimal decision-making.  The thought of picking, like, paint colors or roof tiles or whatever stresses me out.  Actually, the thought of any home-related decision stresses me out.
5. Ease of finances.  I still couldn't hazard a guess as to what "escrow" means, but I can handle dropping a check in the mail once a month.
6.  Smallness of your living area.  I can't really picture what I'd do with three or four times as much square footage; sometimes when I go to my parents' house it feels confusingly enormous to me, even though half the time when I was living there it felt too small/like I could go nowhere to have some quiet.  Also, the over-paranoid part of me that goes into overdrive when jolted awake likes being able to get up at night and check that there's nothing terrifying going on in any of the rooms; having only two real rooms facilitates that happening much more quickly.  Also, something creeps me out about doors to the outside that are really far away.  Did I mention I like having neighbors in close proximity at all hours?
7.  Not having a yard to like weed and rake and mow and generally think about, although this one's a mixed bag, because it would be a a fun place for a slightly older child (NEVER GROW UP AUDREY I CAN'T TAKE IT) to play.  But parks are nice too, although they require more supervision.
Things common to apartments that I either don't love/would love to find a way around in the next place we live:

1.  Lack of community.
2.  Worrying my baby's crying is irritating neighbors (although luckily so far Audrey is super mellow and never really just screams for hours on end; she's generally extremely consolable, and I'm really grateful for that.  I hear this is how you get tricked into having a second baby who might turn out to be a demon-child, though).
3.  No space for visitors to stay with us, although that obviously could be remedied by getting a bigger apartment
4.  The rental prices in the Bay Area are seriously insane (market rate is like $1800/month for a one-bedroom right now in my town; on the plus side, buying a home isn't actually a wiser decision financially, so no pressure there).  Plus the constant nagging fear that your rent's going to go up.
5.  Parking situations.
6.  Lack of in-unit washer and dryers (we do have one now and it's the greatest thing ever/I think probably four or five times a week how much I love that).  It's rare around here.
7.  Noisy maintenance-type activities (nails pounding, demolition, jackhammering, etc.) that make too much noise during my delicate writer-schedule.  
8.  Impermanence.  I would put up with kind of a lot to never have to move again.

What's your living situation like?  Would you recommend it?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Last night I had a dream I took my baby daughter in for a weight check.  The doctor's office in the dream was a converted Victorian house and I was put in a room that was more hotel than doctor's office, and I set my things down on the bed and realized there was milk everywhere––in all the bags I was carrying, on the floor, everywhere.  I waited there for two hours and was furious about it, and as I was leaving to go back to my car, sloshing around in the milk, I realized that among all the bags and furniture in the room I had somehow lost my baby.
For a few weeks now I've been having these bizarre dreams, three or four a night and one each time I fall asleep, and it took me a little to realize it's just that I'm waking up so frequently at night (this was true before Audrey came, too) that I remember all my dreams.  Maybe we always dream like this.

I'm not quite sure what I expected these first few weeks with a newborn to be like, but whatever I imagined, I was wrong.  (For one thing, she was born so big she doesn't quite seem to have the eating/sleeping schedule of a more normally-sized newborn, for which we're grateful!)  And I'm actually less anxious about things than I expected to be.  Like, before she was born I bought one of those insane-parent monitors where you slip this sensor pad under the baby's mattress and it alerts you if there hasn't been any movement in twenty seconds; I bought it not because I really think those things are necessary but because I know myself and I imagined myself staring at the ceiling unable to sleep worrying about her breathing and getting up every thirty seconds to make sure she was still okay.  But actually she feels hardy and healthy to me, and strong, and so much a fact of our lives that I simply can't imagine things without her.

Time has done weird things lately--I can't believe she's over two weeks old now, but it also feels like it's been forever that she's been here, but also when I think back I can't believe fifteen full days have passed.  It's been, actually, kind of busy--lots and lots of doctor appointments and lots and lots of visitors--and more like normal life than I would have imagined, in that I sort of pictured this haze where dishes went undone and garbage bags piled up against wall and I never touched my computer and we kind of stumbled around dazed and so far it hasn't been like that.  I guess I also imagined some kind of seismic shift in myself, or in my sense of self, and so far that hasn't really happened yet either; it's just now there's this tiny funny adorable little person to take care of.

It's strange how someday this will all feel distant and blurry and tinged with whatever kind of emotional filter my memory lays over it (and stranger still that Audrey will, of course, remember none of this).  I hope I remember, things, though, like the little shriek she makes when she's bothered by something (it's so tiny and cute) and the way she looks up at me when she's eating and the way she feels nestled against me when she's just about to sleep and the way when she's hungry and you're getting things ready and holding her she'll turn her head towards you and try to eat your arm.  Or how it's summer and in the afternoons the light will stream in and it's bright and open and she's here sleeping somewhere or lying on the bed while we laugh over her, or how funny I find it when she projectile poops all over the changing pad/towel/carpet/me.  I have a few memory tricks: I make playlists and listen to the same one and nearly exclusively that, so that later I can listen to it again when I want to be taken back to the mood and texture of a certain time.  Also, I take billions of pictures.
But still, inexorably, the days pass!  Bittersweet.

Also, I have an essay up at Brain, Child this week!  (Trigger warning: pregnancy loss.)