Untitled, Siegfried Sassoon

This has been a tough week, so I’m just going to leave this poem here. I’m reading it once for every friend or family member of mine currently going through hard times, and it will be a comfort to know so many more eyes will see it. Hopefully, it will bring some small comfort to others who need it as well.


When I’m alone’ – the words tripped off his tongue
As though to be alone were nothing strange.
‘When I was young,’ he said; ‘when I was young . . .’

I thought of age, and loneliness, and change.
I thought how strange we grow when we’re alone,
And how unlike the selves that meet, and talk,
And blow the candles out, and say good-night.

Alone . . . The word is life endured and known.
It is the stillness where our spirits walk
And all but inmost faith is overthrown.

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Am I really writing a post about the mystery novel Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas recently penned about the characters in one of my all-time favorite shows? Why, yes. Yes I am. It’s basically legitimized fanfic, and I happily shelled out 6.99 for my chance to spend a few more hours in Neptune, post-movie madness a month ago. Maybe I should be embarrassed about this. Some people have certainly told me I should be, but what’s the point? Why should I fight my love of all things Veronica Mars? Why should I pretend I don’t like fanfic when sometimes it’s the absolute best thing ever? I still remember the reams of paper my best friend and her sister used to print out fic written about Ghostbusters. That was back before the internet was a thing, at least for me; I honestly had no idea where they were getting these stories, and I didn’t care. All I knew was that for the low, low price of nothing, we could stay up late reading new adventures with our favorite characters.

Today, of course, the world of fanfic is a bigger deal. The internet has made it possible for anyone with an idea to not only pen as many stories as they want about characters and worlds created by others, but to share them easily with an ever-expanding audience. I happen to think that’s wonderful. I know many people – even some of my favorite authors – look down on fic, or call it unoriginal and derivative, but I see it as an opportunity for people who might never have written a word to share in a feeling of creation.

Writing a story is empowering. When I finish a book, when I’ve pulled it all together and had that internal click that tells me I’m done, it’s the best feeling in the world. I’ve gotten it writing original characters, other people’s characters, essays, dramas, poetry (you name it, I’ve probably given it a shot), and each time is special. I would never want to rob another person of that feeling. I would never want to tell another person that what they write or read is bad, or wrong, or shameful, even though it’s not always easy to own up to what I like best. I’m sure my perspective has been at least in part shaped by the fact that of my three closest friends, one reads mainly fanfic, one, the biographies of politicians and humanitarians, and one, romance novels; my father likes history best and my mother, genre novels and children’s books.

I grew up surrounded by people who said yes to reading in any and every format. There were no restrictions about what I could or couldn’t read, no talk about what was “appropriate” reading material. All around me were true book lovers, people who understood that what made a book “good” was the reader’s pleasure in the experience. So when I tell you that The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line was good, I mean it was a joy to steal minutes out of my day to read it. I fell back into a world I’ve loved since the very first episode of the show aired (I still vividly remember being terrified and intrigued by one of the flashbacks on that show that night). Back then, my friend and I had a standing date to watch it; conveniently, it came on right after Gilmore Girls, so we would pour ourselves bowls of Cocoa Puffs for dinner (I know I’m old because that sounds like an awful supper to me now, but at the time, it was perfection) and settle in for two glorious hours.

Of course, it’s important to recognize that Rob Thomas isn’t exactly borrowing these characters. He made them, and brought them to life, and was instrumental in bringing them back to fans years after cancellation, but he didn’t do it alone. The characters have been shaped by the actors and by the history of the show (undoubtedly built by a team of talented writers). He has been a guiding force in that world though, and his love for both the people he’s worked with and the characters he helped to create is always evident. He also has a gift for creating compelling mysteries, a skill I’m studying closely as I work on my own project. I genuinely have no idea how his characters read to someone unfamiliar with the series, but for fans – new or old – to Neptune, this book is a giant hug from him to you.

Writing the Cozy Mystery, Nancy J Cohen

Tomorrow, I’m flying to San Diego to host a bridal shower for my sister-in-law. Consequently, this week has been spilt between keeping up my word count for Camp NaNo, editing November’s NaNo novel, and double-checking that all the details for the party are in order. I’m not the best party planner, and it turns out, it’s much harder to organize an event I have to fly to. I’ve been leaning heavily on the advice of the friend who planned my shower years ago; she seems to do such things effortlessly, and with her help, I’m only minimally freaked out about playing host to twenty women I don’t know (and one who I very much want to feel pampered for a day).

Between word sprints and remembering to pack ribbon for decorating favors, I really haven’t had much time for reading. Fortunately, Cohen’s guide, which I’ve had in my queue since February, is a blessedly brief book. (Of course, I highlighted about forty percent of it, since my mother and I are teaming up to write a mystery this summer, which essentially guarantees I’ll have to reread practically the whole thing when I move into productivity for that project…)

I’ve been writing fiction for a long time, and part of me felt silly reading a book like this, but I’m also the kind of person who thrives on directions. I love guidelines, and prompts, and advice about how to set up pre-book-writing data. Cohen’s book was perfect for this. She’s concise, informative, and has years of experience in the genre to back up her suggestions. It was written to target writers new to both the genre and to fiction in general, but I didn’t feel condescended to; instead, it was like having a cup of tea with someone who has already gone on a vacation I’m planning to take. Sure, I can imagine my packing list, the best hikes, and where to eat while I’m there, but it’s still nice to pick the brain of someone who’s made the trip already.

Happily, it will serve as an excellent planner for our venture into unknown territory. My mother and I have actually written a few novels together, but we never do much plotting in advance. Instead, we’ve always treated it as almost a surprise – one person writes a chapter and sends it along, then the next person adds one, and so on – eventually, we meander into the meat of the story and resolve all of the loose ends we’ve littered along the way. It’s a surprisingly fun way to write, but not necessarily the best tactic for a mystery. I suspect a little planning beforehand will save us a lot of headaches later, and even after this initial reading of Cohen’s book, we’ve already created a joint Google doc and started filling it with ideas (and let’s be honest – I also took my twenty percent discount from NaNo and finally purchased Scrivener because an org nerd like me should not be without such a program any longer).

Now, if only I could have been as satisfied with the resources I found for planning that shower…


For more about Nancy Cohen, go here.

The Way of the Happy Woman: Living the Best Year of Your Life, Sara Avant Stover

There are some books I read that I feel an immediate affinity for. I have to admit, this wasn’t one of them. It’s the second of the books my sister-in-law gifted me in January (Homebody Yoga being the first), and I’d put in on the shelf and forgotten about it until last week. I was looking for my Moosewood cookbook, and since I have limited storage space, I keep cookbooks next to the unread pile; as I was squatting there trying to ignore how incredibly dirty the rug had gotten, I had time to scan through quite a few titles when I came across this one.

I didn’t remember immediately where it had come from, but it seemed fortuitous. I’m halfway through a couple of novels but have been too busy to sink fully into their stories, and I wanted to take a break and try to regroup. Also, truth be told, 2014 has been a rough year (especially after ’13, which proved to be very lucky indeed) and it seemed important to pick up a book that might  help to realign my priorities. 

That being said, this is the kind of book that reminds me of people who love to hug. I have many dear friends who are huggers, but it isn’t an exaggeration to say I can count on one hand the people I like to hug, and on another, the people I’m willing to hug but would prefer to nod at politely from a distance to express my love. For the record, that hypothetical second-hand includes my very best friends in the world and most of my relatives; hugging, for me, in no way correlates to how much I care for a person, but I think it does say something about who I am as a person. And as a person, I don’t really like touching. Or touchy feely moments. Or books that encourage me to explore my feelings, even if they do so in a well-educated, thorough, and academically interesting way. Which this book does.

Stover is a fantastic writer, and she apparently also leads wonderful workshops based on the ideas she presents in The Way of the Happy Woman. I enjoyed the book and spent most of the time reading it in a meditative posture (as opposed to slung across the couch), which is a win in itself. I even found myself taking notes as I read, and when I looked back at them, I was amazed by how much I absorbed even though her style wasn’t quite a hit for me. To me, that’s a testament to how well-considered this material is and how relevant it is to my life. Even though I couldn’t help but giggle when she talked about the connection between menstrual cycles and the moon (yes, when I hear the word “menses,” I mutate into a twelve-year-old boy), I was able to get past the elements that didn’t work for me and be reminded of how important it is to disconnect from outside expectations in order to reconnect with myself on the physical, emotional, and spiritual level.

One of the ways I’ve been doing this is by choosing to go for a run every day of Lent. Over the last few months, my body has felt more and more out of whack, and nothing I did seemed to bring it back in line. I was having trouble sleeping, eating well, and my exercise routines – usually a source of deep comfort – felt stymied. I needed a change, and although I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my normal workouts completely, I decided to add a minimum of ten minutes of running a day. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but just knowing that I have to get changed and go out for a quick jog has reignited a sense of joy in the activity and motivated me to push harder and go further almost every time. I’ve come back faster than I’ve ever been before and more appreciative of the meditative time compressed into a short, intense workout.

After I finished the book, I decided to take up another daily practice. It seemed like I’d been making excuses about my brain feeling fried more recently, and while I’ve been doing a lot of writing I’m happy with, I can’t completely ignore an edge of creative burnout. I needed to try something new, if only so I could come back to writing with a fuller appreciation, so I went out and bought a new sketch pad, a pencil, and a set of cheap charcoals. I decided that everyday, I would reread one of my favorite poems and spend at least twenty minutes thinking about it and drawing something in relation to the piece.

I didn’t decide on this because I’m secretly a brilliant illustrator. I have very little experience in this area, truth be told, but in college, I took an art class that changed my perspective on the subject completely. For the first few weeks of class, I really struggled. The room was full of amazing artists, and all I could try to do was imitate, poorly, the work I saw happening around me. The only happiness I found was in our take-home assignments, which we did with charcoal in used books. I carried that dirty hardcover with me everywhere, and for the first time, I felt like there might be a spark of the artist in me. I give enormous credit to my professor because after she noticed this, she sat down and engaged me in a conversation about the problems I was having. I was embarrassed to admit what an amateur I was, but I knew it must be obvious from the work I produced. She didn’t care about that at all; instead, she asked me what I loved most. “Words,” I said. “Then that is where you art begins,” she told me.

I have never forgotten that moment, the freedom she granted me with that conversation, and in Stover’s book, it was that theme I came back to again and again. Her philosophy isn’t about perfection, or filling every day with lists of things to create superficial success; it was about reclaiming the parts of ourselves that bring us joy and a sense of peace. For me, all it took was deleting Facebook and Twitter from my phone, and suddenly, I had plenty of time to both run and draw. I stopped checking my email right after waking up and found out I had nearly thirty minutes every day to stretch while my husband got ready for work. I even forced myself to give up making calls for a week, and I realized that the long conversations I have on the phone are actually enriching my life, not detracting from it. I don’t know if these small adjustments will be enough to turn around what I don’t have control over this year, but they’re a place to start.

For more about Sara Avant Stover, go here.