Wednesday, August 31, 2011

the funky liebster.

1. I am in a funk. I can't explain it. Don't know what it is.

2. My husband and I are going on a two-and-a-half week trip to Wyoming and Idaho, starting tomorrow.

3. Maybe the funk is stress.

4. How does one blog and write while visiting grandparents and friends and seeing the inside of Yellowstone for the first time? We shall find out.

5. My new friend J, at Concrete Pieces of Soul gave me an award! It looks like this:

And, yes, I had to look up the meaning of "Liebster." Answer: friend or love, in German. Embarrassed? Yes. My heritage is so ashamed. (And the heart is right there on the image!)

The hard part, of course, is passing this on to five liebsters who have less than 200 followers (them's the rules, y'all). I do intend to do this! However, I need to spend some more time getting to know my new Campaign buddies (Hi, Campaign buddies!), first.

6. My husband found my one-cup coffee maker from college during the move. I am a happy bear.

7. Monday! Thursday! I hereby dub thee my New Official Blogging Days. Not including you, This Thursday. You are far too close, and most of you will be spent on a plane.

That being said, hold me to it! I will hopefully have material to put up while adventuring. Regardless, I'll see you when I get back!

Friday, August 26, 2011

spark #3: learning to let it happen.

It's the last day! Let's get our Spark on! (hurry, quick before midnight--blaaagh!)

My freshman year in college, I had this English professor. His first name was Byron, and he was obsessed with Lord Byron (I remember wondering which had come first). He liked to assign research papers; I was not a fan. I enjoyed the writing, sure. But the researching? The figuring it all out and putting it back together again? All the while freaking out over whether or not I was plagiarizing? Ungh. So not my thing. (This is probably something I don't have in common with other writers, and that's okay, right?)

Anywho, after giving back papers one day, Lord Byron took me aside.
"Have you declared a major?" he asked.
I told him I was a theatre kid.
"Well, do you have a minor?"
I did, I told him.
"Well, I think you would do really well in English. You write a strong paragraph. The way the paragraphs fit together doesn't always make sense..."
I laughed. I knew it was true. I told him thanks and I would think about it.

It took me a long time to realize how cool this was. The next semester, when my minor fell through, I didn't have to look far for a new one. It seems sort of duh, Julie, especially after blogging about my sparks all week, but it really hadn't occurred to me that I was ALLOWED to write. To study writing, even! That was the last major step for me: just letting it happen.

This is the interior cover.
My hardback has big
embossed lettering on the side
that says, "hold me," so
sometimes I just call this book
"Hold Me."

By the end of my college career, I was burnt out on everything. It happens, you know. One day, at a local bookshop in Louisville, I found this weird little gem:      

I learned a lot from Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things... I learned that short stories are truly awesome, and that's there's actually a corner in publishing for quirky--who knew?

But the most important thing I gained from this odd book was my introduction to Kelly Link. Her contribution, "Monster" (also found in her book, Pretty Monsters), is one of my favorite things EVER. It's deliciously bizarre and brave and funny, not to mention horrifying. And it was written in a way that made perfect sense to me. With every word, I saw that I could write in whatever voice came to me--something I had not done in class, out of fear.

Overcome with joy, I emailed my creative writing professor about the contest in the back of the book. Good gracious, I was a little motorboat about it. I'll never forget his response: "See, now this is the kind of voice I want to hear from you." I finally understood what that meant!

I never did enter that contest, though. Truth be told, it would still be several years before I'd start writing seriously. However! It was the summer after I read Noisy Outlaws that I first got The Idea. Major spark points.

All right. One last thing. You want to know the spark that finally got me to put fingers to keyboard?

Reading writers' blogs. When I discovered this, it was like a whole new education opened up for me. I didn't know one thing or the other about publishing, which was my own fault for not being more dedicated to my classes in college (plays take a lot of time and I was LAZY). I let myself think it was over for a long time. I told myself I could just write for me and it wouldn't ever have to be perfect (lies!). But then, slowly, I realized, I can do this. I can do this without going back to school! And I won't be alone, and I won't be judged, and I won't feel guilty for trying.

So, this is for the friends who told me I should blog (and followed me from the very beginning), the friends I've made--and continue to make--on the blog (yeah, I'm talking to you. :B), and the writers, published and unpublished, who've taught me more than I ever realized I would need to learn.

Thank you thank you thank you.

Sparks to all!
( See? I'm still a worried mess when it comes to plagiarizing.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

spark #2: things i read in school.

Hop on over to Christine Tyler's The Writer Coaster if you want to join in the Sparkfest fun. It's not over yet, my friends!

I have a confession to make: I was never a very strong student. Even with reading. I could devour books at home, but what about school? What about being "forced" to read? I had a hard time getting things done, but I did find myself... kind of not hating everything we read as much as my classmates. Like how I inexplicably loved Moby Dick at age 10.

Of all the books I read in school, though, there are three that really stick out as sparks of the writer I would eventually become.

The first was Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. I read it in fifth grade (same year as Moby Dick... weird). I loved that dog (we had a beagle, too).

Reading Shiloh truly spurned me to add "author" to the List of Things I Wanted to be When I Grew Up. Other notable contenders: veterinarian (short lived once I realized what it would involve), actor (still working on that one), doctor or nurse (see vet, above), and, "anything but a teacher" (but perhaps I was just being rebellious).

The summer between my eighth and ninth grade years, I read To Kill a Mockingbird. It changed my life. What fascinated me even more than the voice and the story and the world and Boo Radley, though, was learning about Harper Lee. The fact that she published only one book, that it was the only story she felt she had to tell, exhilarated me.* I knew then that I, too, had at least one story inside me I would have to tell, even if I didn't know what it was yet (I do now, though--and I just got cold chills). And if it was only one story, just one book? All the more beautiful, in my fourteen-year-old eyes.

*(Of course, that's the romanticized version.)

The best English class I ever had was my junior year in high school. I could devote an entire post to this one class. The teacher, Mrs. S, was one of the best of my entire education. She was devoted to making us passionate about literature, and it worked. Because of her, I did not hate The Scarlet Letter as much as I would have, otherwise. Ha. But Mrs. S didn't just teach us the state curriculum. She had a way of sneaking in her personal favorites, and books she deemed important. One of these was The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Oh my gosh, talk about changing my life. This was the first book I ever thought of as "grabbing me and not letting me go." (It also kick-started a fascination/slight obsession with the Vietnam War that lasted well into college.) And, in the vein of Harper Lee, Tim O'Brien fascinated me. Hearing his story made me think of writing in a whole new way--again. I saw the healing it could bring, the connections it could make. And I wanted to be able to do that, too.

Tune in next time for the sparks that finally--and officially--got me to write my first novel.

Oh, that first novel.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

spark #1: that american girl thing.

Well, now that it's halfway through the week of Christine Tyler's Spark Blogfest (or Sparkfest, if you will), I figure I'd better bring my belated A-game and put something out there.

Looking back on my early childhood, it's obvious (my poor parents) that I was two things:
1. A rampant story-teller at home.
2. Not very social or motivated in school.

At age 8, I was diagnosed with ADD. And my ADD, as a little kid, was about the opposite of what you think of when you hear ADD. I definitely did not have that extra H everyone's always talking about. I could barely handle activity, let alone hyper-activity. I never got distracted by squirrels or planes or other kids. What took my attention away was my own imagination. Just thinking. I was ALWAYS thinking. At school, even though I was never so shy that I hid behind things or constantly took refuge in the gym (my mom was the PE teacher), I did live on my own planet, and rarely spoke to others. I think a lot of introverts can attest to the fact that the inside world felt a lot safer than the outside one, as a child... if not now, as well.

And so, the making-up-of-stuff began early. I got all my creative energy out after school, where I was home and safe and had friends who wanted to act out stories with me, and parents and grandparents who encouraged it. That is, until I held onto whichever unlucky adult was trying to tuck me in, as long as I possibly could, to "tell them a story." It was a cheap guise to not have to face the alone-in-my-room-in-the-dark bedtime monsters. But my grandmother ate it up and still talks about it. A huge catalyst, I think (of the making-up-of-stuff, not the nightmares), was a collection of books about this young lady right here:

Oh my gosh, don't look at me. I loved Felicity Merriman (and American Girl, in general) so much, I'm crying just thinking about her. Here, have some more pictures while I try to compose myself.

Oh man, you guys. One of these days, I'm going to find/share the Olan-Mills pictures
 of me in my pink Felicity birthday dress, with matching doll, reading matching book.
It happend.
The Felicity books also got me started riding horses.
It didn't stick quite as much as the love of reading.
And of course, I adore my Felicity doll.
In a fit of nostalgia during middle school, when I was sad
about getting "too old," (puh) I signed my name on her chest.
It was special.
Okay, I think I'm back together, again.

I can credit American Girl books with a couple of things, actually. They also spurned my long-standing obsession with history, specifically American history, specifically the Revolutionary War, specifically Colonial Williamsburg. Which brings us back to Felicity.

She was my first (and, perhaps, truest) geek-out, and it spanned several years. I mentioned earlier that I had a matching dress. Oh yes. There was also a nightgown, and one fateful trip to Colonial Williamsburg... in costume. It was the one-girl Comic-Con of my early youth (a tradition that died fast). And, last fall, when Joshua and I went to a Revolutionary War reenactment in Louisville, I may or may not have ogled at the costumes for sale, gotten a-little-more-than choked up, and begged him to let me get one next year (we're still waiting on the verdict). So, I guess that means the geek-out is still happening. I don't even get this crazy about Harry Potter.

She was not the only character I read, either. I read Molly books and Kirsten books and Addy books... heck, who am I kidding, I read all of them. But Felicity was My Favorite. The doll was my velveteen rabbit, and the books were my first spark. I remember seeing Valerie Tripp interviewed in AG Magazine (to which I subscribed until I was 15, because you can't fight what you love), and thinking, "Wow, I could do that!" But then, when that same AG Magazine would hold their annual writing contest, I was WAY to scared to join.

But! I still wrote stuff! Oh, how I wrote stuff. Terrible, unintentionally funny stuff.

Because I wanted to really have my own stories. I wanted my own Felicity, if that makes sense. In short, I wanted to be like Valerie Tripp, the first author I ever idealized.

(And, speaking of me getting choked up, that's exactly what happened when I read this article.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

updates: chattanooga/sparkfest/campaign edition.

Boy howdy. If I wasn't averse to cleaning before, I most certainly am now. On the upside, there's this neat little city in southeast Tennessee, practically (in fact, partly) in Georgia, and I live there now. It's called Chattanooga. Maybe you've heard of it.

There's this thing called the Choo Choo, and it sure was the swizz in 1941.

Dang. (This was also my only association with Chattanooga as a little kid. LITTLE DID I KNOW, HUH?)

Anyway, I hope you all are excited, because it's Sparkfest week! Meaning, pretty much, that a bunch of cool folks are going to spend a lot of time in the next several days telling other cool folks about the books that got them hooked on the notion of... all this. Stay tuned!

Here are some other important things:

1. The Chattanooga Library is HUGE. It's not quite as quaint/bright/user-friendly as my beloved Blount County, but it takes a close second. Definitely better than downtown Knoxville. Anyway, the point in all this: it's only about a block from where my husband works, as well as within a few blocks of both a local coffee joint and a Starbucks, and a park with free wifi (where I am right now). So, pretty much, I'm set.

2. This city is so... spacious. It's really not any smaller or bigger than Knoxville (not including their respective universities), but it's so much nicer. I could really get used to these wide, wide streets (you can always see the sky! Even in the middle of downtown!), this plaza, that place over there with really good coffee and super-nice baristas, not to mention the gorgeous library (complete with book sculpture/fountain*), and all the awesome things that aren't even in this little chunk of the city.

*a fountain that is a huge, metal sculpture of a pile of books-- but could also be read as books flowing out onto more books, which is a less organized version of what's going on inside, anyway.

3. I am going to gush about Chattanooga for a long, long time, so buckle up. You will want to visit, I am determined.

4. I did the two CRAZIEST things just now:
   4a. I signed up for Rachel Harrie's Third Writers' Platform-Building Campaign. It's like I suddenly grew a spine or something. I'm excited to meet other bloggers, for sure. I'm not as excited about/actually terrified of participating in the challenges, because, in case you haven't noticed, I don't really share what I write online. Too many eyes! Not enough clever! Oh the well. Can't hurt to stretch (my camp counselor is showing, isn't it?)!
   4b. I signed up (I think?) for NaNoWriMo. We shall see where this leads. It kind of doesn't make any sense, being as in-the-middle of a WIP (oh yeah, I started New Draft, finally) as I am, but I figured, What the hey? I need to write something other than this one story, over and over again, anyway. I'm thinking female MC. First person*. You know, something normal.


*I actually did just throw down a bit of New Draft in first person, just for fun, just to see what it was like, and, uh, yeah. So much better. Surprise!

5. Because of all this, I've found myself staring down some new goals.
A of all: diligent, daily work on--and hopefully the completion of--New Draft, from now until October 31.
B: I'm shrinking my Booksplurge 2011 goal to 50, instead of 60. Bummer, I know, but I think it just has to be this way. And it will still be the most books I've read in one calendar year, if I get there (pretty shallow claim, since I've never kept track before. OH WELL).
And C: Um, the Campaign and NaNo.

So... wwwwwish me luck.

(Edited to add: this isn't in English, is it? Ha!
Well, that's trying to watch youtube outside in the city without headphones, for ya.)

See you next time! We'll talk about my favorite book in 5th grade! And then my favorite book in high school! And then, you know, college, and why I started writing, for reals. And then maybe we can eat pizza, because Chattanooga has really great pizza (it matches all the other really great stuff). Ooh! And we can go to the Tennessee Aquarium, because it's awesome and I could walk there right now. (!)

Oh, wait, I did what? Set a ton of unreasonable, unattainable goals for myself that will pretty much take up the rest of the year?


Okay. We can go to the Aquarium in January, then. HAAAAAAA. (oh boy.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

As much as I would love to regale you, gentle readers, with all my thoughts on moving, reading in the car while moving, my first week of owning an iPhone, and the wonder that is a latte with hazelnut, alas... I have three u-haul truckloads of junk to unpack.

So, instead, I thought I'd share with you my current favorite youtube videos.

First of all, I think I want one of these in a couple years:

And if you think that's great (because it is), here's Billy Collins himself reciting "Litany."

I'd be lying if I said the following dumb song hasn't been stuck in my head for three days...
but it is surprisingly conducive to getting things done.

Okay, we're about to spiral into mega little-girl-territory (but it's so worth it!). If you don't want to sit here for 22 minutes to watch an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, I understand.
But if you think you can handle it? Oh man. So great.

And... my current very favorite. I posted this a while back, but it won't hurt to post it again.


Have a lovely Monday, friends! I'll be here. Loving on some boxes. :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

who does amazon think i am?

Hello, Amazon. You're good for lots of things, you know? I can buy books from you, maybe music... okay, mostly books. No one here is complaining. Not counting the whole "taking business away from independent booksellers" thing, of course.

Anywho, Amazon, I'm beginning to wonder if somewhere in your stratosphere, you got your wires crossed about me. You used to send me emails about things I've actually bought. Now, you keep sending me this:

Seriously, it's come twice, now. I blame this post by K. Marie Criddle, and myself for following the link at the end. Now Amazon thinks I lurrve baby unicorns. Well... I guess that's not too far from the truth. I do prefer narwhals.
Arctic mint!
In other news, the very same K. Marie Criddle is moving to Japan, and giving away books about origami and (of course) unicorns in honor of it. You know you want to be a part of that (also, her blog is super fun, if you're not already aware).

But, word to the wise? Be careful about what links to Amazon you follow. Pretty soon, they'll be sending you emails from their "Preschool department," as well. Ha.

Monday, August 8, 2011

in which i go to a book signing and am too shy to say anything but my name.

I am so grateful to Beth Revis, Victoria Schwab and Myra McEntire for noting the gaping hole in this region that tends to suck all the cool stuff down the proverbial drain and redeposit it in places like New York, Utah, California and the Major Cities. I love living in the South (though, I will claim that I am slightly more Midwestern, coming from Pretty-Much-Indiana, Kentucky), don't get me wrong. However! So many things slip through the cracks. Like, if you don't live in New Orleans, Atlanta or (sometimes) Nashville, or (sometimes) Asheville, you sort of miss everything. And, now that I have stated the same thought three times, I give you, FROM ASH TO NASH.

So, Husband had the camera, but I was directly in front of him. His only photo option was that which you see above. Thus, the picture-taking job fell to me. I was in direct eyesight of the four authors present, and it was awkward to be all snappity-snap with the Big Silver-Plastic SLR, right in their faces. In my defense, the flash remained off, and I'm pretty sure that I would not have minded being photographed, were I Beth Revis, Victoria Schwab, or Myra McEntire. Or Alan Gratz. Because it would mean that I was SIGNING BOOKS. *drifts off to fantasize about that very thing*

It was so fun. My grin was plastered and unyielding.

This is (thankfully) where my wonderful husband took over photographer duties.
Back in college, I went to several signings. For a grade. Those were... not so fun. I was never miserable, per se, but I also never knew exactly whom the authors were, and they were usually poets, anyway. Don't get my wrong (again). I love poetry. I have at least three friends who are published poets, and it's awesome and their words make me drool-happy. But it was SO DIFFERENT, and so fun, to go see authors I'd actually heard of, read things about, blog-stalked, etc.
Another major difference between then and now is that in college, it really was all about the grade. I did not *love writing,* they way I do now. I didn't know anything about agents or publishing or the writing process. All I knew was that I never really loved what I wrote. I just wanted to be in plays and graduate one semester late instead of two. Ah, the achiever in me.

ANYWAY. It was awesome, this book signing. I loved hearing the authors talk about their processes and experiences, and to actually understand--at least in part--what they were talking about.

I thought long and hard about what I would say when I got to the table, but none of it actually came out. Did I mention how nervous I was? I did manage to use polite words and tell them my name, and not get embarrassed about asking for a picture:

Glasses are cool! Look at me, fitting in!
Which was awesome. Maybe next time, I'll mention that I write.

But hey, look at it this way: we're closing on the new house in the morning, and I will have no shortage of chances to daydream about signing autographs.

Wish me luck.

Monday, August 1, 2011

award! sparkfest! ash to nash! finding peace! all the good stuff.

First of all, if you haven't taken a gander at the Harry Potter Zipline photos, please do. It really happened. You won't regret it.

Second-- and most important-- ly, here are some things that are going on:

1. We have moved our bed into the den. Pretty much everything from the bedroom, actually, has been moved. Some call this "packing," I call it "in-house camping." It's a mess, but it's also pretty fun to have a double bed, two couches, a coffee table, two bookshelves, a TV, and a small dining table with two chairs and a bench in one room (don't worry, it's an unusually large room).
1a. We're buying a new mattress and bed frame when we move. I can't wait to show you guys this bed. It's so odd. It has WHEELS. We're looking at a huge bookshelf with wheels, too. Good thing our new bedroom is tiled. Oh yes, tiled.

2. With the end of camp, I've been looking at my summer goals, again. The only ones that probably just aren't going to happen are to watch less TV and exercise daily. I know, I was doing so well. But!
2a. Even though I haven't gotten as much done as quickly as I would have liked this summer, I'm feeling pretty good about my writing. Have I gone through my entire rough draft yet? Well, no. But I have been doing a fair amount of planning and aligning events in my head and my notebook, which will hopefully help me figure out the direction of everything once I really get into revisions.

3. The lovely Deirdra at A Storybook World has given me an award! Just because! I am so thrilled. Seriously, you blog folks are awesome. I know I should say this more often, so I'll try to make up for it now:

When I started blogging, I had no idea what I was getting into. All I knew was that I wanted to write, and I wanted others to read. I've noticed how some bloggers can cultivate huge followings in the span of months, and while that is awesome, I do not possess such skills. I am a networking sloth. I struggle with putting myself out there, I really do. So, again, THANK YOU. I am so encouraged.

So fun and pretty!
(Also, I'm relieved to know I'm not the only one being entertained, over here.)

4. Speaking of putting myself out there, I'm going to be participating in Christine Tyler's Sparkfest in a few weeks. Hooray! I hope you'll join me; blogfests are so much fun. And so is Christine's blog, The Writer Coaster. Let's show some love.

5. Have you guys heard about From Ash To Nash?                     (look there it is! -->)
Anyone outside of this area probably doesn't care, but as a resident of the East Tennessee/Western North Carolina region, this is thrilling. A book signing in Knoxville! Who'd'a thunk? And so, I will be there, at Union Ave. Books, next Sunday afternoon. If you are going to be there, too, please tell me! Especially if that means you also live in this area. Friends we shall be, I say.

6. Speaking of the East Tennessee/Western North Carolina region, an amazing thing happened at camp a few weeks ago: I stopped caring about being cast as an extra in The Hunger Games. A good move, on my part, because they never called me. :) Look at that, a smiley face. And you know why?
6a. There are so many wonderful things going on in my life, these days. Really. I have a wonderful husband, fantastic friends, two highly entertaining cats, and a whole world that exists solely in my imagination. I don't NEED to be in The Hunger Games to feel good about myself. That's what it was, for a while. I wanted to be a part of something that made me feel significant. I also wanted a chance to see Jennifer Lawrence again, I won't lie (that's not just a pipe dream-- I knew her {i.e. her brother} back in Louisville... for those of you who hadn't heard that a thousand times over, already). Also, since I'm being brutally honest about myself, I felt a bit... possessive of the story. As if The Hunger Games existed solely for me, and so OF COURSE they would let me be a part of it. I thought that if no one called me, it meant that I was not good enough for the story I loved, had no presence, was doomed to never act again. But the truth (or at least part of the truth)?

I don't live in the right state.

A crap-ton of people went to those casting calls, and most of them lived in the immediate area. I like to think that I'm not half-bad at the things I do, but I also knew I wasn't going make such an impression that the distance wouldn't matter. And that's okay. I don't regret going out for it. Now that I can look back without the butterflies or the gut-pounding high hopes, I see the day for what it was: a fun morning with friends and coffee and good conversation, a profound learning experience, and something I will always be able to say I did. What's not to love about that?

So, how's the beginning of August faring for you, my friends?